Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > October > JURASSIC PARK PLANTS--CYCADS


The palm-like King Sago is one of many cycads, plants that were around at the time of the dinosaurs.  In fact, cycads pre-date the dinosaurs, being around 300 million years old.  They once flourished over most parts of the planet but are now confined to a smaller range in the tropics and subtropics.  We know this from the fossil record which shows that cycads were once present on every continent.  Today, there are only 250 or so species to be found, and some are in danger of extinction from habitat destruction.

Despite the common name “Sago Palm”, cycads are not palms, but are more closely related to pine trees.  They are dioecious, meaning there are male plants and female plants.  The female cycad produces cones which, when fertilized, will bear the large, often colorful seeds, while the male plant produces cones containing the pollen.  The sex of a cycad can only be determined after it has produced a cone.  Improperly processed seeds and other plant parts are toxic to humans and pets.
Several species make good houseplants.  The most popular is the King Sago (Cycas revoluta), with a short, thick trunk, topped with rounds of stiff, glossy-green feather-like leaves.  The Zamia furfuracea or Cardboard Palm has arching fronds of thick, blue-green oval leaflets.  Dioon edule (Virgin Palm) has long fronds with stiff spiny-tipped leaflets.  The Florida native Zamia floridana or Coontie Palm is a smaller species with bright green narrow leaflets.  Other Cycas, Dioon and Zamia species can be tried as potted plants.  Other genera, such as Encephalartos, Macrozamia and Microcycas, will probably not do well inside.
These relatively slow-growing plants produce a “flush” of new fronds once (sometimes more) a year.  These new leaves are softer than mature growth, and it is important to rotate the plant one-quarter turn daily until the leaves harden in order to maintain the circular growth habit.  Plants grown in strong sunlight will have shorter, stiffer fronds, while those grown in lower light will have less attractive stretched out fronds.

Cycads require good drainage and do not mind being pot-bound.  Allow the soil to dry moderately then water thoroughly (while new fronds are emerging, the plant may require more frequent watering).  Better to go a little too dry than too wet.  Fertilize in spring and summer with a general purpose houseplant product.  Don’t fuss over a cycad…any plant that has survived almost 300 million years should be able to handle life as a houseplant. 
Posted: 10/1/2014 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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