There are 3 techniques to propagate date palm: seed, offshoot and the recently developed tissue culture.

Seed propagation, also called sexual propagation, although useful for breeding purposes, is not a proper method of date palm propagation and ought to be discouraged. The main reasons in favour of discouraging seed propagation are as follows:

  • Date palm is a dioecious species and consequently half of the progeny will be males and half will be females, with no certain way to determine at an early stage the sex of the progeny, nor fruit or pollen quality prior to flowering (often only seven years later)
  • Female plants originating from seedlings usually produce late maturing fruits of variable and generally inferior quality compared to established clonal palms. In a seedling plantation it is rare that more than 10 percent of the palms produce fruit of satisfactory quality
  • Date palms are heterozygous, and thus there will be much variation within the progeny, and desirable characteristics of the parent palm may be lost. In other words, it is not true to type propagation and no two seedling palms are alike
  • Seedlings differ considerably with regard to production potential, fruit quality and harvesting time, making them very difficult to market as one harvest

The above reasons result in waste of time, space and money.

Thus, seed propagation is by far the easiest and quickest method of propagation. However, it is not a true to type propagation technique and no two seedlings will be alike. Because of its diversity, the seed approach can only be useful for breeding purposes. Taking the above into consideration, date growers are encouraged to use tissue culture-derived material of known varieties with high date quality and marketing potential.

Offshoot propagation, also called asexual or vegetative propagation, offers advantages over seed propagation, but though true to type, it is not very practical from a mass propagation point of view, and consequently does not satisfy the large needs of plant material. The following reasons illustrate this handicap:

  • Offshoot production is limited to a certain period in the life span (a short vegetative phase of about 10 to 15 years) of date palm
  • During this short phase, only a limited number of offshoots are produced (20 to 30 offshoots, at most, depending on the variety)
  • Some varieties produce more than others (some do not produce offshoots at all)
  • A mature specimen with no offshoots will be lost if not propagated through another technique
  • Depending on the care given, a low planting survival rate is frequently obtained when using offshoots
  • The use of offshoots will enhance the spread of date palm diseases and pests
  • Offshoot propagation is difficult, laborious, and therefore expensive

The rapid propagation of date palm as well as propagation from a mature specimen is impossible due to the limited number of offshoots produced and the fact that offshoot production is limited to a certain period in the life span of the palm.

Tissue culture techniques for date palm, also called in vitro propagation, has many advantages (in comparison to the above two techniques) and enables the following:

  • Propagation of healthy selected female cultivars (disease and pest-free), Bayoud resistant cultivars, or males having superior pollen with useful metaxenia characteristics which can easily and rapidly be propagated
  • Large scale multiplication
  • No seasonal effect on plants because they can be multiplied under controlled conditions in the laboratory throughout the year
  • Production of genetically uniform plants
  • Ensure an easy and fast exchange of plant material between different regions of a country or between countries without any risk of the spread of diseases and pests
  • Economically reliable when large production is required
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