Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
Arabic name: سيكس
The Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) is often referred to as a “living fossil.” This native Japanese plant belongs to the cycad family, which has survived from amongst a large group of plants that dominated the earth over 100 million years ago. This striking evergreen tree is favored as an ornamental plant due to its foliage and attractive growth habit. Although it resembles a palm, it is a primitive cone-bearing plant, more closely related to conifers. It is dioecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. Female plants produce a “flower,” while male plants produce a cone.
Sago Palms have a very slow growth rate. Young specimens are 0.5m in height, with a spread of 1m, while mature specimens grow to a height of 2m, with a spread of 1.5m. Although very slow growing, Sago Palms are extremely long-lived, with some specimens having a life span of over 200 years.
Sago Palms grow in full sun or partial shade, and are drought-tolerant. They prefer rich soil, but are tough enough to grow in almost any soil. Good drainage is required or the plant will rot.
Sago Palms require some watering once established. Generally, trees need supplemental irrigation to get established, especially if planted after the rainy season. During the first year, irrigate in the amount of 20 – 25 liters of water twice a week. During its second year, a tree needs to be irrigated in the amount of 40 liters once a week. Beginning with the third year, when trees get established, some, like the Sago Palm, need to be irrigated in the amount of 50 – 60 liters once a month in order to achieve optimal flowering.
The Sago Palm usually grows with a single trunk, although some old specimens may grow in clumps of several trunks. The short thick trunk is topped with a large rosette of arching leaves that grow in a circular pattern. The feathery leaves, which are dark glossy green in color and are 0.6 – 0.9m long, are deeply divided into stiff leathery leaflets 10cm long that curl out, giving the Sago Palm its species name revoluta. New leaves come out as light green spikes that form a circle around the trunk. The leaves then uncoil slowly as they grow to full length, settling into a new rosette of leaves.
The female flower is a globe formed by modified leaves, which later produces a tightly packed seed head, covered with small whitish leaves. The male cone is yellowish and grows 30 – 45cm high. The seeds that form in the female flower are 3.5cm in diameter and become brownish red when ripe.
Notes on use:
Excellent container plant; suitable for interiors and patios; provides a tropical effect. When grown in containers, allow the soil to dry before watering.
Sago Palms may be propagated by seeds or offsets (young shoots attached to the mature plant; also called “pups”).
Any leaves that turn yellow or brown should be removed to reduce stress on the plant and to promote new growth. The lowest set of leaves should be cut close to the trunk if the tips begin to turn brown.
Sago Palms may be lightly fertilized in winter or early spring. Avoid fresh manure and strong fertilizers to avoid damaging the nitrogen-fixing that exist on the plant’s roots.
Sago Palm leaves are spiky, so it is preferable to plant them away from pedestrian paths.
This article is part of a series of articles prepared by the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) on water conserving landscapes.
For additional information on water conserving gardens, visit the CSBE web site at www.csbe.org
Support for the CSBE project on water conserving landscapes is provided by WEPIA (Water Efficiency and Public Information for Action), a program being implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).