Updated: Nov 2, 2021
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 time 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) that 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, pleased with its new home it seems. 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.
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
Positioning: Patio, indoors
Garden Themes: Asian inspired, tropical, sub-tropical, modern, rock
Uses: Specimen, container, bonsai, border, foundation (with space to grow)
Type: Evergreen cycad (with an appearance of a palm with single or multi-trunk)
Form: Palm-like (may form multiple trunks from base), upright
Size: 10' tall with age by up to 6' diameter canopy at top
Outstanding Feature(s): Foliage, form, flower
Bark: Shade of brown
Type: Pinnately compound
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
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
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 highly 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/.
Male Cone: "Cycas revoluta male" by Danorton is licensed under Wikimedia Commons.
All other photos by TELCS.