14 January 2011
The cycad grows and looks much like a palm but it isn't the same. The large, heavily divided leaves make the cycad look like a tree fern or a palm, and they are distantly related. However "Cycad plants are dioecious (i.e. male and female reproductive structures are borne on separate plants), and reproduction is by seeds, which are produced on open carpophylls or seed-bearing leaves. Although technically woody plants, unlike other woody plants, cycads possess a pachycaul stem. This is a thick, soft stem or trunk made up of mostly storage tissue with very little true wood. Within the trunk, leaf traces or veins leading to leaves arise at a point opposite the attachment of the leaf, and circle the trunk within the storage tissue. These are known as with girdling leaf traces, and occur in some ferns but no other seed plants. The coralloid roots of cycads are also characteristics not seen in other seed plants, and the cycads lack the axillary buds seen in other seed plants." (http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/PlantNet/cycad/cycintro.html)
Cycads are somewhat rare. This is explained by the unscrupulous harvesting of such plants from their natural habitats. They make beautiful easy care houseplants and those found on the market are usually grown from seed.
When grown in pots, keep the pot facing the same direction at all times to prevent the leaves from spiralling out of the pot. Fertilize with a sea weed fertilizer, which I discovered they love, or a weak solution of sea kelp or de-odourized fish fertilizer. Cycads prefer a somewhat dry free-draining soil. They do not like to sit in water nor to have their soil waterlogged.
Cycads like to summer outdoors in a shady site, protected from winds. Will also do well in full sun, though I've not tried it.
Propogation by seed is the preferred method, though division has also produced satisfactory results.
Did you know the oldest cycad fossil dates back to early Permian, 280 million years ago? See Cycad in Wikipedia for more information.
Note: all parts of the Cycad are poisonous to animals and humans. Do not ingest.
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