KEY MESSAGE: Potentially embryogenic oil palms can be identified through leaf transcriptomic signatures. Differential expression of genes involved in flowering time, and stress and light responses may associate with somatic embryogenesis potential. Clonal propagation is an attractive approach for the mass propagation of high yielding oil palms. A major issue hampering the effectiveness of oil palm tissue culture is the low somatic embryogenesis rate. Previous studies have identified numerous genes involved in oil palm somatic embryogenesis, but their association with embryogenic potential has not been determined. In this study, differential expression analysis of leaf transcriptomes from embryogenic and non-embryogenic mother palms revealed that transcriptome profiles from non- and poor embryogenic mother palms were more similar than highly embryogenic palms. A total of 171 genes exhibiting differential expression in non- and low embryogenesis groups could also discriminate high from poor embryogenesis groups of another tissue culture agency. Genes related to flowering time or transition such as FTIP, FRIGIDA-LIKE, and NF-YA were up-regulated in embryogenic ortets, suggesting that reproduction timing of the plant may associate with somatic embryogenesis potential. Several light response or photosynthesis-related genes were down-regulated in embryogenic ortets, suggesting a link between photosynthesis activity and embryogenic potential. As expression profiles of the differentially expressed genes are very similar between non- and low embryogenic groups, machine learning approaches with several candidate genes may generate a more sensitive model to better discriminate non-embryogenic from embryogenic ortets.