Assessing the use of wild seedlings for agroforestry

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Seedlings of Inga edulis being transplanted. In order to evaluate the potential of the natural seedling bank in the forest for establishing agroforest we transplanted 345 seedlings into our seedling nurseries at the same time as we sowed the seeds

Inga seeds have no dormant stage and germinate directly . In addition the trees  fruit for a short period of time, maybe only a couple of weeks and the fruit are very popular with monkeys and parrots. This means that it is not always possible to find seed for sowing unless you are living close to appropriate seed trees and get to them before the monkeys or parrots. It is, however, often easy to find large numbers of young seedlings growing under the parent trees as parrots and monkeys have to shell the pods to extract the sweet covering on each seed and so tend not to stray too far. We therefore decided to evaluate the potential of these ‘wild’ seedlings for establishing agroforest.

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Transplanted wild seedling versus sown seed: the seedlings on the left were transplanted aged about 6 months the ones on the right were sown from seed at the same time (photo Rolman Velarde)

We collected several hundred seedlings of Inga edulis, I. velutina together with an undescribed but promising looking species and transplanted them to our nurseries at San José and Palacios. We wanted to see how many survived the trauma associated with transplantation and how their subsequent growth compared to sown seed of I. edulis. The preliminary results suggest that between 1/5 and 1/4 of transplanted seedlings die . This is comparable with sown seed. Where transplanted seedlings fair less well, however,  is in their growth rates. As you can see in the picture above the transplanted seedlings (lower left hand, darker looking bags) have been overtaken by the seeds sown two months prior. This suggests that their growth rates have either been impaired by the processing of transplantation, or that developing under the shade of a parent tree has slowed down their development.

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Seedlings of Inga thibaudiana dug up from the forest around the community of San José for transplanting

In summary, preliminary results of our not very scientific study suggest that transplanting is a viable way to obtain material for producing agroforest but it will have an impact on initial growth rates and so should not be considered  if seedlings for planting out are needed in a hurry.

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