Cycas revolute: Sago Palm

This stately plant resembling a thick-stemmed palm is one of the loveliest evergreen species grown for ornament. It has no special requirement and is suit-able for a large room, conservatory or glassed-in entranceway.

Cycads are ancient plants from the evolutionary aspect, which is reflected mainly in the structure of the sexual organs. These are arranged in cones or in clusters of woody carpels bearing naked ovules. The leaves of the juvenile form are coiled in a spiral like those of ferns. Altogether, 15 species of cycads (genus Cycas) have been described to date. These are found in the tropics and subtropics of the Old World from Madagascar to southern Japan. All have an erect trunk covered with woody leaf scars. The leaves are pinnate, relatively large and their structure adapted to dry conditions. A point of interest is that cycads were found to have the least amount of chlorophyll of all hitherto investigated plants.

The species is native to south-east Asia, its range extending from the East Indies through China to southern Japan. Adult plants reach a height of 3 m (10 ft), but they have a very slow rate of growth. The leaves are a lovely deep green, up to 2 m (6 ft) long, and last many years.

The compost should be a mixture of loam, peat and sand. Feed should be supplied regularly during the growing season. In the spring it is best to carefully scrape away the surface compost in the container and replace it with fresh compost rather than move the plants. Propagation is relatively easy: either by means of seeds, which are approximately 3 cm (1-¼ in) long, or by sideshoots which grow at the base of older trunks. They will root readily with bottom heat and moist compost, however the atmosphere should be on the dry side.

Other related genera, such as Encephalartos, Ceratozamia and Dioon, are just as handsome and, at the same time, very hardy. Some have an underground stem, for example Stangeria, probably an adaptation to the regular fires that occur in the savanna areas where they grow.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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