Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Left from the Time of Dinosaurs: Sago Palm

Cycas revoluta, the Sago Palm. I aspired to one when first I saw them in Florida. Nurse Gwen dug one from around her MIL's cycad, potted it and gave to me. After its first winter in the garden, all the fronds were brown and dry and I was sure it was dead. It put out four new fronds. I cut off the old ones. Every year afterward, it multiplied fronds in multiples of 4: first 8, then 12, then 16, then 24. If old fronds died, I cut them off. When it got a leggy stem, I heaped compost around it.





Last spring, the usual whorl of emerging fronds looked odd. It was rounder. It got bigger but the fronds didn't emerge and were overlapped and tan.

It took a while for me to decide there was something amiss. I searched and learned that my cycad was a female, in what most be the nesting mode for a Cycad. The bad part was, by the time I figured it all out, it was too late to have searched for a male cone and pollinated. If there was pollination, it would have to come on the wind from far away. I couldn't remember seeing another cycad in the community. In the fall, I looked and there were little orange seeds there.

Today, I decided to see if there might be any viable seed. I raked out pieces of the 'nest' and found many tiny undeveloped seedpods and about 4 that were bigger than the first joint of my thumb. I took a handful of seeds, floated them in rainwater. All floated except for 2 of the largest. I planted those two and some of the others. I noticed that one rattled when I shook it. I cut it open and there was a seed kernel inside the size of a marble; it had separated from the hard coat. I've since learned that this means that the seed dried out.


Winter was not kind to cycads in this part of the country. Mine has damage and I've cut off some dead fronds. I saw some in Tallahassee in February that were totally brown and looked dead. I hope they'll come back.

12 comments:

  1. There's a house here in town with a few huge ones in their front yard. Every year, after the first frost, they cover them with leaves and toss a stove box over them. The cardboard box must protect them enough over the winter. They've just unwrapped them and I have to say, I don't think they survived. They aren't hardy here. I'm not sure how many years they've had them growing. I would love to have one in the garden.

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  2. Educational post.

    I've seen some kind of palm here and there, but since we don't have the zone for it, I've not ever looked into growing one.

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  3. I love sago palms. You can see many being grown here. How interesting that there are female and male plants. I had not considered that before. The problem with them in our area is when people plant them out in full sun....they get sunburn in the summer.

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  4. Thanks Nell for doing an article on your Sago Pa;m. I just couldn't figure out what that fern like plant was beside your lovely shrub was the other day. LOL! Now I know and it is lovely. Maybe I need new glasses.
    Lona

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  5. I have one sago palm in my frond yard (south florida). It is still relative small now. Only got one set of new fronds since I got it last year. Wonder if it is a male or female. Looks like I also need to do some more researches... Great post!

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  6. aloha nell i noticed your cycad along time ago in some pics and it is huge, i grow the queens here and they are beautiful palmlike, they do love the conditions here, but also have a nasty white mite that really eats up the leaves and spreads to the others...i've been switching to cardboard sagos which are more resistent to bugs/viruses.

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  7. Thanks for that landscape picture of the palm. It is beautiful!

    Better luck next time on the seeds. Now that you know what is going on, it should be easier.

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  8. Thanks for the interesting and informative post - I've admired cycads before, but have not tried to grow one as I'm not sure if the frosts here would damage it.

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  9. Sago's do look extrememly prehistoric, don't they? And misleading as they appear soft, but are bristly. Maybe the dinosaurs used them as toothpicks?! :) Anyway, I don't have any (yet) so I appreciate your insight regarding the "nest"..I'm not sure I'd figure that out. I hope your seeds produce, and I hope your sago recoveres quickly.

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  10. Ah, the sago! These were once stalwart beauties of Central Florida. While they are resistant to any cold temperatures we have to offer, there is a far worse nemesis that is damaging our sagos here--the cycad scale. It was introduced to Florida just over a decade ago, and has been working its way northward. I have a beautiful old specimen in my garden that has been ravaged, though I am fighting a brave battle. I've had a future post brewing in my mind on the very topic.

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  11. I have sago palms. I have lots of seeds if you want some, or I can send you small plants that will grow pretty quickly into nice specimens.

    Some of ours had damage from the cold, but if they have any protection at all, they are in robust rebound mode. Putting on those pups like crazy. I always despair when I see the pups. The sago gets huge here.

    The scale is also a problem here, but if you grow your plants from seed, you don't usually have a problem with it. It is something that is 'introduced', or so I am told.

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  12. Janie...in Florida, it does not have to be introduced. It has been spreading northward for over a decade. It has attacked my 20-year-old sago, and my sister's 30-year-old sagos, even though the scale was not introduced to Miami until 1996. Very difficult to control.

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I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.



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