The Textural Beauty of the Sago Palm
Sago palms, or Cycas revoluta, are wonderful plants to feature in your garden. They originate from Southern China, the Japanese island of Kyushu, and the Ryukyu islands (found south west of Japan, stretching towards Taiwan). Cycas revoluta are in the family of Cycadaceae and belong to the group of plants know as Cycads. They are prehistoric, palm-like plants that bare large male or female cones and are found in tropical or sub-tropical regions. They existed before the dinosaurs and flourished during the Triassic and Jurassic eras but have been declining recently.
Cycads are also gymnosperms, which means ‘naked seed’. They don’t bear their seeds inside fruit or following flowers. Instead, the seeds are exposed and borne in cones until maturity. Conifers are also gymnosperms, and Cycads have more in common with them than they do true palm trees.
Cycas revoluta are dioecious, which means that they have the male and female reproductive organs on separate plants. The female plant will not develop a cone unless a male is planted nearby. The seeds will form inside the female cone when pollinated by small insects moving pollen from the male to the female plant. The female plant will generally only develop one cone, whereas the male could develop two or more.
Sago palms have long, beautiful, arching leaves that look like palm fronds. They are pinnately compound, which means that one long ‘frond’ is made up of many thin leaflets. The leaves are an attractive, shiny, dark green. The species name, ‘revoluta‘, describes the way the leaves roll back, exposing the thick mid-rib of the leaf. Younger plants will produce new leaves several times a year. But when plants mature, they only produce new leaves once a year, usually in early summer.
The fine texture of the foliage provides a wonderful contrast to other common tropical plants in your landscaping, which have larger leaves. Colorful plants such as calla and canna lilies and Fatsia japonica all enhance the effect of the sago palm’s rich, dark green leaves. They also complement other plants with finer textured leaves, such as red or green Cordyline species or multi-colored, strappy-leaved Phormiums.
Cycads are very slow growers, which can be a benefit for gardeners who do not like plants to become too overgrown. This makes them a low-maintenance choice for your garden. When sago palms are used in combination with faster-growing tropical or tropical-looking plants, you can afford to be patient and wait for them to develop. Another benefit of Cycas revoluta is that they are evergreen and will provide year-round foliage when the cannas and callas are dying back for the winter. Eventually, they can grow to be 3-10′ tall and wide and live for many years.
The best growing conditions for Cycas revoluta are in full sun or part shade with a moderate amount of water and excellent drainage. They like soil that is sandy and has a rich humus content. This plant can also be grown as a house plant and thrives if planted in potting soil with sand and peat mixed in. They prefer indirect, filtered light, such as light shining through a curtain in an East, West, or South facing window.
These long-lasting plants are versatile. They can be planted in shade gardens mixed with ferns, Hostas, Hydrangeas, and other shade- loving plants. They also blend well with sun-loving plants to create a tropical effect. They can be added to gardens with true palms, such as windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), as part of a Mediterranean garden or desert garden. Whatever your garden style, the sago palm will make a beautiful addition to your yard.
USDA Zones: 9-10.
Planting and Care for Cycas revoluta
- Plant in full sun or part shade. A little shade is beneficial in hot regions.
- Plant in sandy soil with good drainage.
- Amend heavy soils with Greenall’s Firmulch and sand to improve drainage.
- Prefer slightly acidic soil pH of 5.5 – 6.5.
- Water needs are moderate, but it is somewhat drought tolerant once established.
- Mulch base with bark mulch to conserve soil moisture.
- Fertilize infrequently with slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote.
- Feed with a magnesium rich fertilizer if there is yellowing of the old leaves.