Sago palm

Sago palm

The Cycas revoluta, commonly known as the Sago Palm is one of the oldest species of plants that exist. They appeared on the earth during the Paleozoic Era from 350 to 250 million years ago, before the flowering plants appeared. They were dominant plants in the Mesozoic Era and coexisted with dinosaurs. For this reason these plants are sometimes referred to as “living fossils”,  and the Mesozoic Era is referred to as the “Age of Cycads”.

Today the oldest types of plants are becoming increasingly endangered in the wild. However, they continue to exist on this planet.

The Sago palm is actually a cycad not really a palm tree. This ancient plant is a member of the Cycadaceae family. Because of its palm-like appearance people call it a palm tree.

The magnificent plant has a rough trunk and a crown of large pinnate, fern-like leaves. Most plants reach four to six feet in height. Some species can reach up to 20 feet in height.

The unique characteristic of the Cycas is its reproductive structures. The Sago palm is dioecious; it is either a male or female. Male sago palms  have a cone-shaped reproductive structure, and female sago palms have a globe-shaped structure.

The oldest survivors of our planet is extremely poisonous for humans and animals if digested. Sago palms can cause liver damage, especially if the nut portion is consumed. The palms are very attractive and palatable for pets, but they are deadly and can kill them within several hours of digestion. Please, keep these plants away from your pets  and children.

The Cycas revoluta is easy to care for. It is hardy to 15 degrees and can withstand short freeze. It is a very slow growing plant but very long-lived. The Sago palm tree is one of the longest living plants in the natural habitat. Typical life span ranges between hundreds to thousands of years.

This ancient group of plants are great for decorating. Today they are very popular landscaping components in tropical and subtropical regions. The “living fossils” are used widely for landscaping design and in horticulture.

Where can sago palms grow?

Almost anywhere the summers are warm and mild and where they will be sheltered out of frosts and snow. If kept in pots they can be grown in cold climates providing they are overwintered and your summers aren't too cold.

If your climate isn't characterised by frost-ridden winters then growing a sago palm in the ground is certainly an option. Obviously palms that grow in the ground have less maintenance requirements and can grow much taller than their pot-bound counterparts.

Problems with the sago palm

  • Slow growing - while they look fantastic when they're a decent size waiting around for them to grow can be an exercise in patience. In most cases they will only add 1-2" (2-5cm) per year - and that's a good year.
  • Great leaf catchers - because of their shape and growing habit, sago palms are great leaf catchers. This is a bonus if that's why you wanted to grow this plant but for most gardeners it can become they reason they rip them out. Therefore, plant them in a location that isn't beneath a deciduous or leaf-shedding tree.
  • They need warm summers - while sago palms can put up with cold winters they really struggle if they can't enjoy some summer warmth. If your summers don't average at least 20°C (70°F) then the sago cycad may not be an option for your garden.
  • They need sun - just like warm summers, cycas revoluta basks in full sun. While they will grow in shade and perform quite well in part-shade they can often become leggy and more disease-prone without at least half a day of full-sun.
  • Deadly to dogs - for those gardening pet-lovers keeping a sago palm and a dog in the same confines is asking for trouble. The seeds from the sago palm are extremely poisonous and will kill a dog within a few hours of digestion. And, don't think your children are immune - this can seriously harm them as well.

Caring for a sago palm

Apart from the growing conditions mentioned above sago palms are quite easy to care for. A feed of a balanced fertiliser every six months and caution taken when watering (they don't need much) is really all these plants require.

If your sago palm has become a leaf catcher then removing the built up compost from with the plants centre is paramount. Leaving it to rot down within the plant can cause a myriad of disease and fungus problems which are better prevented rather than trying to cure.

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