Cycas revoluta

Updated: Jul 21


What was once an exotic rarity found in greenhouses or temperate San Francisco's Victorian landscapes, sago palms have been making their way into gardens throughout the Bay Area for some awhile now. They satisfy people's interests in tropical gardens, yet one might be surprised to learn that C. revoluta is native to southern Japan and is technically not a palm but related to conifers. Modernists like them too for their sculptural interest.


Noted for their slow growth, something that our neighbor verified, telling a story of the palm (shown below) their father gave them back in 1960. It remained in that pot for the next sixty years until recently planted and sending out these new shoots. In a way, its resilience, though confined in a container with intermittent supplies of water, reminds me to growing cacti in containers. Sure, they'll need more water than if they are planted in the ground, but if you happen to forget to water a few time, it still survives. In other words, sago palms are great for container gardening, but be kind and remember to water.

facts

Botanical Name: Cycas revoluta

Cycas: Greek, kykas, however the Royal Horticulture Society states that this word may be an error in spelling of koikas, for palm tree, for its appearance.

Revoluta: Rolled backwards, as in the leaves

Common Name: Sago palm

Family Name: Cycadaceae


Origin: Southern Japan and southern China


design considerations


Positioning: Patio, indoors

Garden Themes: Asian inspired, tropical, sub-tropical, modern, rock

Uses: Specimen, container, bonsai, border, foundation (with space to grow)


identifying characteristics


Type: Evergreen cycad (with an appearance of a palm with single or multi-trunk)

Form: Palm-like (may form multiple trunks from base), upright

Texture: Coarse

Size: 10' tall with age by up to 6' diameter canopy at top


Outstanding Feature(s): Foliage, form, flower


Bark: Shade of brown

Leaf:

  • Type: Pinnately compound

  • Arrangement: Rosette

  • Shape: Lanceolate, linear leaflets (may have sharp tips)

  • Margin: Entire but revolute, curling under leaflet

  • Color: Bright green new growth turning dark green with age

  • Surface: Glossy

Cone: April - June. Both male and female plants need to be present for pollination and seed production. Male cone is upright, golden, and central. Female cone is also golden, feathery in appearance, and more rounded in form. Seeds turn bright orange to red in autumn.


cultural requirements, tolerances & problems


Sunset Zones: 8-24; H1, H2

USDA Zones: 9-10


Light: Part shade

WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Moderate

Soil:

  • Texture: Sand, loam, high in organic matter and well-draining

  • Moisture Retention: May dry between watering

  • pH: Slightly acidic to neutral

Tolerances: Drought, salt

Problems: All parts are toxic

  • Branch Strength: Not applicable

  • Insects: Scale, mealybugs, spider mites

  • Disease: Sooty mold, armillaria


citations & attributions


Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.


Missouri Botanical Garden. "Cycas revoluta." Accessed on July 10, 2021 from http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=279640.


Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.


NC State Extension. "Cycas revoluta." North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Accessed on July 10, 2021 from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/cycas-revoluta/.


Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on June 28, 2021 from https://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/Download_WUCOLS_IV_List/.


Photos:

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