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BLUE CYCADS BANNER2  

 

 

 


BLUE CYCADS
by Phil Bergman

Description of Article

ARTICLE DISCUSSING VARIOUS TYPES OF BLUE CYCADS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Introduction

Having been in the business of growing and selling cycads for over thirty five years, I can say that there's just something about a cycad with blue leaves that attracts and mystifies garden enthusiasts and collectors.  Blue cycads are the number one cycad sought out by enthusiasts and, as a group, are our best selling cycad plants.  This article will show you an assortment of cycads with blue or silver leaves, explain how the plants get this blue color and perhaps give you an idea as to why they are so popular.

   

THE COLOR BLUE

Among the amazing group of plants known as cycads, there are many species among several genera which have what we'd call "blue" leaves.  But, I must first define what enthusiasts refer to as "blue", as most will consider everything from a traditional blue through silver as being a blue plant.  To one not familiar with cycads, you might anticipate that "blue" would mean to color of the sky or the ocean.  But, among plant people, this is not the case.  "Blue" is given a much wider spectrum of colors from silver to the classic blue.  In fact, leaves that are almost white would still be considered "blue".  The first picture below shows a color that one might find similar to the color of a blue sky.  The second plant is almost silver in color.  The third is a blue-green.  The last photo below shows a green leaf with a frosty blue coating.  To a cycad enthusiast, all of these are "blue".  So, you can see that "blue" is a loosely used term that includes the spectrum from blue green through a more traditional blue and into the silver color range.

Blue Cycad Leaf
More of a traditional blue
Silver blue leaf
More of a silver color
Blue-green leaf
Blue-Green in color
Green with a blue frost leaf
A green cycad with a frosty blue
coating on the leaflets.
 
It would probably be more simple if cycad collectors gave a more descriptive name to the color, but all of these are grouped together as 'blue cycads".  So, keep this in mind as you read further through this article.. 
   
.

WHAT MAKES CYCAD LEAVES/LEAFLETS BLUE?

Mother Nature gave plants the compound named chlorophyll.  This is a green pigment that helps the plants photosynthesize. Because of chlorophyll, the color of leaves is alomost always green.  However, some plants live in very dry or hot environments.  They can lose water through their leaves and desiccate.  As a protective mechanism to prevent desiccation, some plant species will produce a waxy compound that coats the leaves.  This compound will be a thin layer on the outer layer of the leaf surface and gives the leaf a blue color.  It serves to prevent the loss of moisture.  The more of this compound that is produced the more "blue" the leaf.  The first four photos below show various close-up shots of blue leaves with their waxy coatings.  As it is merely coating the leaflets, it can be rubbed off with the finger or with heavy rain.  The last photos below show how one can rub off the blue color.

E. horridus closeup leaf
Leaflets coated with blue wax 
E. horridus leaf
Note spotty areas were the blue wax
has worn off leaving green spots
E. trispinosus leaves
Outdoors, almost all leaves have a
good coating of blue wax
 
E. princeos
These leaves are traditionally blue 
Blue wax cycad leaflet
Encephalartos horridus showing
blue wax
Blue wax encephalartos leaflet
Note on central leaflet how the
blue wax rubbed off, leaving a
dull appearance and less blue
Blue wax cycad leaflet
same, wax rubbed off
blue wax on thumb
blue wax on end of thumb,
faintly visible


   

ENVIRONMENTAL AND WEATHER EFFECTS ON THE BLUE COLOR

As described above, the blue wax is produced  by cycads is to prevent desiccation.  The threat of desiccation is more prevalent in hot and arid environments.  Thus, one might anticipate that the hotter and drier the growing environment, the more the plant would produce this wax.  This is true and exactly what is seen.  In more demanding interior locations, plants tend to be a more intense blue color because of the amount of wax produced.  In fact, such plants take on much more of a silver color as the wax is actually white.  Along the coast you might see more of a blue-green color because of coastal humidity. Also, inside of a greenhouse the ambient humidity is also high.  Thus, one sees a less intense blue on greenhouse grown plants.  In fact, sometimes "blue plants" are more green than blue in a humid greenhouse.  In this location, cycads are not too concerned about moisture loss.  But, along these same lines, this means enthusiasts who live in very humid localities such as South Florida or Hawaii might find it more difficult to produce blue leaves like one would see in more desert environments.

Blue Encephalartos arenarius
Silver colored E. arenarius grown in
far inland location
 
Encephalartos horridus
Intensely blue E. horridus inland 
Encephalartos princps
Greenhouse grown E. princeps showing
green leaves 
E. lehmannii
Same thing with E. lehmannii grown inside 
 
I must point out that a blue cycad species will produce blue leaves when throwing a new flush of leaves.  If you consider why this happens, you come to realize that the plant doesn't know for sure what the new leaves will see.  Such a plant prepares for the most stressful environment.  So, almost always, new leaves emerge blue even in the greenhouse. Think of it as if the new leaves have on their "waxy overcoats" just in case it's hot and dry.  If the plant finds the humidity is high, this blue powder production is ceased and existing powder may wash away in time giving more green leaves.  Sometimes these newly emerging leaves are so blue that they show a purple or sometimes blue-red color as shown below..

All four photos below are the first flush on newly rooted out offsets of Encephalartos horridus.  Note how the first two show the purple color, the third plant is quite blue even though it's in the greenhouse.  And, the last flush is a silver-brown color.  These purple or brown flushes turn blue over about a one month period.
E. horridus new flush  E. horridus flush  E. horridus flush  E. horridus flush 
 

 

CYCADS WITH BLUE COLORED LEAVES 

ENCEPHALARTOS

All Encephalartos are native to Africa.  Among this genus there are a dozen or more species that would be considered to be blue plants.  There are more blue cycads in the genus Encephalartos than in any other cycad genus.  Without spending the time here to give descriptions of the actual species, I will rather show an assortment of these blue cycads.  These include plants from the nursery, private and public gardens and habitat.

Encephalartos horridus
E. horridus nursery plant    
Encephalartos horridus
Encephalartos horridus nursery plant 
Encephalartos horridus
Encephalartos horridus in garden 
Encephalartos trispinosus
Encephalartos trispinosus at the nursery 
Encephalartos trispinosus
Encephalartos trispinosus at the nursery 
Encephalartos trispinosus
Encephalartos trispinosus in a garden 
Encephalartos lehmannii
Encephalartos lehmannii at nursery
Encephalartos lehmannii
 Encephalartos lehmannii at nursery
Encephalartos lehmannii
Encephalartos lehmannii in garden 
Encephalartos princeps 
Encephalartos princeps at nursery
Encephalartos princeps
 small Encephalartos princeps in garden
Encephalartos princeps
Encephalartos princeps in garden
Encephalartos lanatus
Encephalartos lanatus at nursery
Encephalartos lanatus
Encephalartos lanatus in South Africa
Encephalartos fridirici-guilielmii
somewhat blue Encephalartos fridirici-guilielmii
Encephalartos eugene-maraisii
Encephalartos eugene-maraisii at nursery
Encephalartos eugene-maraisii
Encephalartos eugene-maraisii at botanical garden
Encephalartos eugene-maraisii
Encephalartos eugene-maraisii
Encephalartos middleburgensis
 Encephalartos middleburgensis at nursery
Encephalartos middleburgensis
Encephalartos middleburgensis in garden
 
Encephalartos dyerianus
 Encephalartos dyerianus at nursery
Encephalartos dyerianus
 Encephalartos dyerianus in garden
Encephalartos cupidus
 Encephalartos cupidus at nursery
Encephalartos cupidus
Encephalartos cupidus in garden 
Encephalartos dolomiticus
Encephalartos dolomiticus at nursery
Encephalartos dolomiticus
Encephalartos dolomiticus
Encephalartos dolomiticus
 Encephalartos dolomiticus at nursery
Encephalartos dolomiticus
Encephalartos dolomiticus in garden
Encephalartos hirsuitus FLIKR unknown phtographer
 Encephalartos hirsuitus FLIKR unknown phtographer
Encephalartos hirsuitus P. Heibloem PACSOA
 Encephalartos hirsuitus P. Heibloem PACSOA
 

CYCAS

Cycas is a genus of cycads from Asia and Australia.  In Australia, particularly in the Northern Territory, there are Cycas species that have a blue color to their leaflets.  I've found these plants to be fairly difficult to grow here in California.  They seem to do better in hotter, more arid conditions than we have in coastal Southern California.  Below are some photos of blue Cycas species you may come across or read about.  

Cycas angulata
 Cycas angulata
Cycas angulata
 Cycas angulata in garden
Cycas calcicola
Cycas calcicola 
Cycas calcicola
Cycas calcicola in garden
Cycas couttsiana
Cycas couttsiana in garden
Cycas couttsiana
Cycas couttsiana
Cycas pruinosa by G. Beaumont PACSOA
Cycas pruinosa by G. Beaumont PACSOA 
Cycas panzhihuaensis
Cycas panzhihuaensis with a hint o blue in some plants
Cycas panzhihuaensis
Cycas panzhihuaensis in garden in FL 

DIOON

The genus of Dioon are native to Mexico and parts of northern Central America.  Almost all species are green.  But, some species of Dioon sonorense have blue leaves.  There are also hints of blue or a blue frosty coat to a few others as shown below.
 
Dioon sonorense by JS
Dioon sonorense in garden
Dioon sonorense
Dioon sonorense
Dioon sonorense
Dioon sonorense in private garden
Dioon edule blue
Dioon edule with blue color at nursery
Dioon edule
Dioon edule with blue color  
Dioon merolae at nursery
Dioon merolae at nursery with a white frost 
Dioon merolae 
Dioon merolae private garden
Dioon merolae leaf detail
Dioon merolae leaf detail; note white frost
Dioon caputoi
Dioon caputoi in the wild with a hint of blue 


MACROZAMIA

Macrozamia are all from Australia.  There are several blue colored species.  The most famous are M. macdonnellii and glaucophylla.  Several others take on a blue color to the leaves.  Most of these are full sun species that like arid conditions.  I've even seen a fairly blue large Macrozamia moorei.
 


Macrozamia glaucophylla PACSOA by Thompston and kennedy
Macrozamia glaucophylla PACSOA
by Thompson and Kennedy 
Macrozamia glaucophylla PACSOA by Thompston and kennedy
Macrozamia glaucophylla PACSOA
by Thompson and Kennedy
Macrozamia macdonnelii
Macrozamia macdonnelii at a botanical garden
Macrozamia macdonnelii
Macrozamia macdonnelii
Macrozamia macdonnelii
Macrozamia macdonnelii unknown contributor
Macrozamia secunda PACSOA by Thrompson & Kennedy
Macrozamia secunda PACSOA by Thrompson
& Kennedy 
Macrozamia stenomera PACSOA by Thompson and Kennedy
Macrozamia stenomera PACSOA by Thompson &
Kennedy, can take on blue color 
Macrozamia macdonnellii by Gary Beaumont PACSOA
Macrozamia macdonnellii by Gary Beaumont PACSOA,
habitat photo 

ZAMIA, CERATOZAMIA, STANGERIA, LEPIDOZAMIA AND OTHER GENERA

The genera listed above do not really have any "blue" species.  Ceratozamia miquelliana and whitelockiana throw newly emergent blue leaves, but these slowly turn green over time.  Zamia and Ceratozamia throw newly emergent red or brown colored leaves but these also revert to green.  Stangeria and Lepidozamia are always green except for perhaps a hint of color to newly emerging leaves occasionally with Stangeria

 

CONCLUSION

Blue cycads are highly sought after and have never lost their popularity.  The blue color of the leaves is from a protective waxy coat.  This coat prevents desiccation of the plant and is from a naturally forming wax put out by the leaves.  This wax can rub off.  Plants display more blue color and can even get silver in more arid environments.  Greenhouse grown plants may be less blue but get more blue on being moved outdoors into direct sun.  On blue species, new leaves almost always emerge blue in anticipation of dry, arid weather.  The genus Encephalartos has the most blue species with well over a dozen described.  Some genera of cycads do not have blue species.   


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Horridus leaf detail Encephalartos horridus Encephalartos horridus
Three photos above are Encephalartos horridus    

Phil Bergman
Owner

Jungle Music Palms, Cycads and Tropical Plants
Nursery Location: 450 Ocean View Ave., Encinitas, CA 92024
Nursery Hours: 9AM to 4PM, Monday through Saturday
Nursery Phone: 619 291 4605
Email: phil@junglemusic.net

 

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