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WHAT ABOUT CYCADS? - A QUICK REVIEW

Information on Cycad Appearance, Growth &
Usage in the Landscape

 

 

INTRODUCTION

This article is to stimulate you to consider cycads in you landscape.  Most people have had some experience with or have seen the common Sago Palm.  Did you know that this plant in not a palm at all, but rather a cycad.  Cycads are a unique group of plants that are among the most sought-after and collectible plants in the world.  They have very primitive origins and have evolved very little since the days of the dinosaurs.  For this reason they are often referred to as Living Fossils.  They predate the Jurassic Era and fossils have been found that point to their presence over 200 million years ago.  And, they were a dominant species of plants on the earth at that time.  

 

HOW CYCADS DIFFER FROM PALM TREES

For over 40 years, our nursery has been growing both palms and cycads.  Many people consider these two groups of plants quite similar, but they are as distinct as night and day.  Yes, both have a tropical appearance and species of both groups can survive outdoors in many areas and look nice when planted side by side.  But, cycads are seed bearing, woody plants classified as gymnosperms (woody, cone-bearing plants) and most closely related to conifers (cone-bearing evergreens).  Palm trees are members of the Grass Family of plants.  If you have ever seen the reproductive cone of a cycad, you will recognize its similarity to a pinecone. 


cycads landscape
Cycads adjacent to a pool 
cycads landscape
A cycad garden 
cycads landscape
Another cycad garden 
Jungle Music Greenhouse
Encephalartos horridus, 24" box
Jungle Music Greenhouse
Encephalartos arenarius, 15g
Jungle Music Greenhouse
Encephalartos longifolius, 15g
     
Encephalartos villosus cone
Gold cone of Encephalartos villosus
Encephalartos ferox cone
red-orange cone of E. ferox
Encephalartos ituriensis
long upright leaves E. ituriensis

 

ANATOMY OF A CYCAD

Cycads have a woody trunk called the “caudex” and typically have leaves at the top of this trunk.  They sometimes have basal offsets (suckers), which can be removed and established as a plant by themselves.  Cycads are dioecious, which means there are males and females.  The cones of each sex look different.  To form fertile seeds, pollen must make its way from the male cone to the receptive female cone.  This can be accomplished by insects or manually by man.  Without pollen, any seeds produced by the female cycad will not be fertile nor will they germinate.   

Some cycads get quite large when mature while others are dwarf and little over a foot tall.  Some prefer tropical environments and rain forest.  Others prefer hot and arid climates.  In their natural habitats, cycads are found in many continents worldwide stretching from Asia and Australia, through Africa and into both the northern and southern Americas.  The garden environments that can support good cycad growth are quite diverse.  Here in Southern California literally there are several hundred species that we can grow.


Ceratozamia europhillidia leaf
Cycas europhillidia leaf 
Cycad debaoensis leaf
Cycas debaoensis leaf 
cycas panzhihuaensis
Cycas panshihuaensis - caudex below leaves

 

APPEARANCE OF AND POPULARITY OF CYCADS

As a group, all cycads are amazing plants.  There are multiple reasons for the increasing popularity of cycads.  First and foremost is that they are quite rare and different appearing.  Some have unarmed, soft leaves.  Others are quite armed and spiny.  Some species are very erect with near 7 meter leaves while others have a low profile that is pendulous and floppy.  There are even miniature species that are only about a foot tall. 

Leaf color varies from shades of blue to green, but the cones display many colors of the rainbow from red to blue to brown. (see photos of examples above)  Enthusiasts like having something that is unusual appearing in their garden and cycads are about as diverse as any group of plants can get.  And, because they are quite predictable in their eventual size, it is quite easy to select the appropriate species whether you want a big, monster plant or a dwarf species for that “cute little spot” in the garden.  In general, cycads are not large plants compared to most palms and go well in almost any garden setting.  Cycads are considered on of the most ideal "companion plants" that one can choose.

Cycas ophiolitica
 Cycas ophiolitica
Encephalartos trispinosus
Encephalartos trispinosus
Encephalartos dyerianus
 Encephalartos dyerianus
Assorted cycads at nursery
Assorted cycads at Jungle Music
Jungle Music Greenhouse
Encephalartos transvenosus, 24" box
Assorted cycads at nursery
Assorted cycads at Nurserys

 

 

EASE OF GROWING CYCADS 

Another appeal of cycads is that most species are quite simple to grow.  They like good-draining soil and also prefer not to be over-watered.  Many species would qualify as a xerophytic plant.  Also, they do quite well in containers but prefer ample soil for optimal growth.  Most species prefer full sun and good heat.  But, there are some shade loving exotic species.  Many species adapt quite nicely to greenhouse culture and there are even some species that do well as house plants.  This diversity in the growth environments of cycads means that people who live in very cold areas can easily grow some either in their home or in a heated greenhouse quite easily. 


Cycad in landscape
Cycad in landscape 
Encephalartos tripsinosus in pot
Encephalartos trispinosus
in pot 
Encephalartos ferox in cone 
Encephalartos ferox
in cone

 

CYCADS CONSERVE WATER

An additionally nice thing about cycads is that their water requirements are not that great.  With the increasing concerns about water conservation, this is a desirable trait.  With an established cycad garden, it would not be unexpected that you could turn off your water and leave for several weeks with no harm to the cycads.  Also, there are many cycads that can tolerate quite cold temperatures.  In 2007, during one of our coldest winters (24 degrees F), we saw much greater damage to the palms than to the cycads.  There are many species that easily tolerate temperatures into the low 20’s F. and possibly into the upper teens. 

 

Jungle Music Greenhouse
Dioon merolae crown, 24" box
Jungle Music Greenhouse
Encephalartos lehmanii, 15g
Jungle Music Greenhouse
Encephalartos natalensis, 24 inch box

 

CYCADS ARE DURABLE PLANTS! 

A final really nice thing about cycads is their durability.  Plants tolerate a fair amount of neglect and abuse and keep growing.  They can be easily dug and travel with you when you move or rearrange your garden.  They typically tolerate times of extreme heat or drought.  And, they can adapt to many soils as long as the drainage is good.  In terms of obtaining a plant, they are easy to ship and don't typically miss a beat being in a box for a week during shipping.  They arrive to a customer’s door looking just like they did when they were sent.


Encephalartos horridus
 Encephalartos horridus
Encephalartos woodii
 Encephalartos woodii -
100 years old
Encephalartos transvenosus
Encephalartos transvenosus in habitat - 500 yrs. old

 

SO, WHY CONSIDER CYCADS?

With all these advantages, cycads can be the perfect type of plant for someone who is trying to conserve water, sees cold winters, doesn't want plants to get that tall and wants plants that are easy to grow.  All these things are characteristics of cycads.  Also, cycads are quite addictive.  Once an enthusiast starts growing them, they usually become his favorite plants and he enthusiastically shows them to his friends.  It can change one's viewpoint from "I have a nice garden" to "I love my garden"!  If you are designing a garden, do consider this group of plants.  Most institutions and botanical gardens consider them their most coveted plants.


Cycas panzhihuaensis
 Cycas panzhihuaensis
Encephalartos gratus
 Encephalartos gratus  
Encephalartos inopinus
 Encephalartos inopinus
Zamia nesophila
 Zamia nesophila
Dioon mejiae
 Dioon mejiae
Encephalartos whitelockii
 Encephalartos whitelockii

 CYCADS AND JUNGLE MUSIC 

Our nursery has specialized in cycad propagation and conservation since 1977.  We have one of the best selection of cycad species in the U.S.  Although not known to be “inexpensive” plants, many are quite affordable and quick growing plants.  We offer all sizes for sale from seedlings up to huge, fifty year old coning specimens.  We supply cycads to many of the major botanical gardens in the country.  We've found that, even among people who don't collect cycads, cycads are so varied in appearance that there's always one or two that they really like and want in their garden.  Regarding shipping and delivery, both are available.  As cycads are endangered species, they cannot be taken out of the U.S. nor do we ship them internationally.  But, for those in this country, we can easily ship plants right to your door. 


Encephalartos altensteinii Jungle Music
 Encephalartos altensteinii
Encephalartos trispinosus
 Encephalartos trispinosus
Macrozamia communis
 Macrozamia communis
Cycads at nursery
Cycads at nursery 
Cycad seedlings
Cycad seedlings 
cycads at Jungle Music
Larger cycads at nursery 

Cycads in the garden Cycads in the garden

 

For more information on cycads, please click below:

 

Cycads In The Landscape

Photographs of Cycads

Pictures of Mature Cycads and Our Nursery Cycads

Water Conservation and Cycads

Palm Tree and Cycad Blog

 

Phil Bergman

Owner, Jungle Music Palms and Cycads

 

Email:

phil.bergman@junglemusic.net

Website:

www.junglemusic.net

Nursery Location:

450 Ocean View Ave., Encinitas, CA  92024

Nursery Phone: 619 291 4605

Nursery Hours
:
Monday - Saturday 9AM - 4PM
Typically closed Sundays.
Directions to Nursery: Freeway Close. Take Freeway 5 to Encinitas
(10 minutes south of Oceanside, 30 minutes north of San Diego). 
Exit Leucadia Blvd West (toward ocean).
Immediate left on Orpheus Ave, left on Union St,
Right on Ocean View Ave to Nursery, which is at 450 Ocean View Ave

Mailing Address:

 

3233 Brant Street, San Diego, CA 92103

 

 
 
   
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