Module 3: Plantation Assessment
Why are good seeds important?
- Oil palms can produce good yields for 25–30 years.
- Good quality, certified seeds will produce good palms that give very large yields.
- Seeds of poor quality, with unreliable certificates or no certificates at all, will give a poor yield for 25 years!
So make sure you only plant hybrid seeds!
In oil palm, the best yields are produced by so-called ‘hybrids’. A hybrid is a cross between two different types of parents. Hybrids are produced in specialised breeding companies. The parents of hybrid oil palms are different because of the thickness of the ‘shell’ of their fruit.
The shell of an oil palm fruit is the brown/black woody ring between the yellow flesh and the white kernel. There is no oil in the shell.
Normal palm oil (called crude palm oil or ‘CPO’) is extracted from the yellow flesh, which is also called ‘mesocarp’. Oil can also be extracted from the white kernel, and this oil is called ‘palm kernel oil’ or ‘PKO’. However, this is a special oil and normal palm oil factories are not interested in it.
The mother palm of a hybrid is called dura. Dura fruits have a thick shell. The father palm of a hybrid is called pisifera. Pisifera fruits have no shell at all.
The cross between dura and pisifera palms is a hybrid called tenera. Hybrid tenera fruits have a thin shell and the palms produce up to 30 percent more oil than their parents!
2) How to recognise tenera, dura and pisifera palms
The only type of oil palm that can produce large amounts of oil is the hybrid tenera type. All seeds from good companies are of this type.
Tenera palms are considered the best palms because:
- Each fruit produces a large quantities of oil (which is in the mesocarp, the yellow ‘flesh’)
- The palms produce a large amount of fruit bunches
Tenera fruits can be recognised by:
- A thin shell
- Brown/black fibres in the mesocarp around the shell
Dura palms are not considered the best palms because:
- They produce large fruit bunches, but the fruit contains about 30 percent less oil than tenera fruit
Dura fruits can be recognised by:
- A very thick shell
- No fibres in the mesocarp around the shell
Pisifera palms can be recognised by:
- Leaves growing in an upward direction instead of to the side which makes the crown of the palm appear very ‘narrow’
- No fruit bunches (the palm is sterile)
- Some palms may grow very tall
Pisifera fruits are difficult to find because the palms are sterile. Pisifera fruits can be recognised by:
- No shell around the kernel
- The fruit consisting of only yellow mesocarp (flesh) and some white kernel
If there is a mixture of dura and pisifera palms in a plantation then usually their numbers will be more or less constant, for example 30 dura palms, 30 pisifera palms, and 60 tenera palms.
Components of tenera and dura fruits
3) How to make tenera palms
The fathers and mothers of all living creatures (people, cats, oil palms, ants etc.) give traits to their children in the form of genes. Genes are located inside every cell of the body. In humans, for example, there are genes for colour of the hair, or talent for singing or mathematics. In cats, for example, there are genes for colour of the fur.
In oil palms there is one gene that determines the thickness of the shell (the ‘shell thickness gene’). The shell thickness gene has only two forms: ‘thick shell’ or ‘no shell’. The mother and the father palm each give one ‘shell thickness gene’ to their children (so, to their seeds), which can be either the ‘thick shell gene’ or the ‘no shell gene’. Seeds with two ‘thick shell genes’ will become palms that produce fruits with a thick shell (dura). Seeds with two ‘no shell genes’ will become palms that produce fruits with no shell (pisifera).
When you cross a dura with a pisifera (like they do in the seed producing companies) you get a tenera:
- The dura mother gives a ‘thick shell gene’;
- The pisiferafather give a ‘no shell gene’;
- The seeds get one ‘thick shell gene’ and one ‘no shell gene’ and will become palms that produce only fruits with a thin shell (tenera).
Why we cannot plant seeds from a plantation
If you cross only dura mothers with pisifera fathers, you can be certain that:
- The gene from the mother can only be thick shell;
- The gene from the father can only be no shell;
- The seeds will always become palms that only produce thin shell fruits.
If you plant the seeds that you took from a plantation, this is what happens:
- The mother is not dura but tenera;
- The father is not pisifera but tenera;
- You will not get only good hybrid tenera palms but a mix of tenera, dura and pisifera.
Here is what happens when you take seeds from the plantation:
- The gene from the mother can be either thick shell or no shell;
- The gene from the father can be either thick shell or no shell;
- The palms that grow from the seeds of these parents can be thick shell, thin shell, or no shell.
Left: Production of a tenera palm; right: what happens when you plant seeds taken from the plantation?
Independent plantations with bad planting material usually have around 50 percent tenera palms, 25 percent dura palms and 25 percent pisifera palms. In commercial plantations, only tenera palms are found. Smallholder plantations that were planted by a company will also contain only tenera palms.