Plant of the Week: Sago Palm

By on June 10, 2011.

Cycas revoluta – Sago Palm, not really a palm species, is part of the Cycad family. It is native to southernmost Japan and mild, subtropical regions. Japanese gardening and worldwide popularity has produced an abundance of low maintenance, statuesque varieties. The ‘living legend’ moniker comes from its lineage dating back to the Mesozoic era.

Size/Habit/Lifetime: Usually seen 4-8′ tall and equally as wide. Very slow-growing, reaching 15-20 feet in ages of 100+. It’s palm-like habit lends to the name Sago Palm.

Culture: Zones 8-11. As far north as Coastal Carolina. Will exhibit die back, hardy to 11°  according to Michael Dirr. Some have been said to endure frost to zone 7. Full sun to partial shade, though often tolerant of shade. Prefers well-drained soils, sand to sandy loam. Can grow beautifully with little to no care outdoors. Often used indoor or in greenhouse plantings farther north.

Leaf/Stem: Many leaves born on a fern-like, rosette crown. Each leaf 2-4′ long with many leaflets, each to 7″ long. Leaves are deep, glossy and finely textured.

Flower/Fruit: Dioecious (meaning two houses) male and female plants. 1-2″ seeds are produced on small, short cones of the  female plants. Males have tall slender pollinating cones. As a gymnosperm, no flowers are produced. Seeds a satiny, bright red color when exposed at maturity. All parts, highest in seeds, are poisonous with the toxin cycasin.

Use: Lends well to planters, accent rows, groupings or as a specimen. Easily found all over the Gulf Coast U.S. region. The entire crown seems coarse and stands out to the eye.

Many related species offer similar habit with varying size, growth rate, and leaf types. C. tiawanensis is one of many other Sago species. Other cycads are becoming very popular: Chestnut Dioone, Dioone edule, a Mexican cycad, and a contested Florida native, Coontie, Zamia pumila.

Notable Facts: Beware of mealybugs, scales and occasional Manganese deficiencies. Heavy fertilization may damage roots.  The seeds commonly poison animals and children due to brightly colored shiny, coat.

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