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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Gardening with "living fossils"


Long before mankind started gardening, Mother Nature was already growing gardens of her own.

By growing these ancient plants, even today we can create a garden reminiscent of a time when dinosaurs ruled the animal kingdom and the dominant plant types ruling the plant kingdom were cycads and ferns.

My Cycad - Cycas Revoluta (Sago Palm) July 2013 

The Sago Palm is native to the Far East and the cold hardy Sago Palm has been used as a choice container and landscape plant for centuries. The growth habit of Cycas revoluta displays an upright trunk with a diameter of typically about 20 cm (7.9 in) in diameter, sometimes wider, depending on age, topped with stiff feather-like leaves growing in a circular pattern.

Regardless of age or size, the Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are one of the easiest plants to grow and care for, indoors or out, by beginner or expert. Sago Palm plants adapt to a wide range of temperatures from 15 to 110 degrees F (-11 to 42 degrees C), Sagos accepts full sun or bright interior light, thrive with proper care and maintenance, and tolerates neglect. In addition, Cycads are extremely long-lived.
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My Cycad when planted in 2007

Cycads are often referred to as “living fossils” because they date back to the age of dinosaurs of which only fossils remain today. Some scientists believe cycads date back as far as 250 million years, but reached dominance about 150 million years ago - widely known as the age of dinosaurs. During this period they were a prominent component of the earth’s vegetation and a very important part of most herbivores’ diets.

Cycads are arranged into numerous families and genera. Most southern African cycads belong to the genus Encephalartos in the family Zamiaceae. This is said to be the second largest genus of cycads and consists, to date, of about 63 living species. They are all endemic to the continent of Africa.

 My Cycad almost two years later in 2009

Cycads are slow growers and therefore need time and patience to grow. They can prove difficult in some instances and may require a little more effort to grow successfully, but they are well worth the time and effort spent on them.

Cycads do best in areas with a moderate climate. Certain species however prefer tropical to subtropical areas and there are a few that are able to survive in cold, dry areas. Extreme climates with prolonged periods of intense heat or cold are not suitable, unless the cycads are in greenhouses where the conditions are controlled.

My Cycad in 2010

The basic requirements to grow cycads are: unimpeded soil drainage, good soil, warmth and plenty of water. Your pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline, not acidic. I know that my soil is slightly alkaline, as most of my nearby hydrangeas are pink, the colour of which is caused by alkalinity in the soil. They are sun loving, although some forest species requires some shade.

My Cycad in 2012

The Sago Palm growth rate is extremely slow and are extremely long lived and old specimens can grow in curious ways. Many Sago have multi-trunks and multiple branches.
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Uses and cultural aspects
In the past, the pith from the stem of cycads was removed, then enclosed in an animal skin, fermented and ground into a meal which was used to make bread. Hence the Afrikaans name of broodboom. Cycads develop into attractive feature plants and E. transvenosus is a particularly attractive species provided it has sufficient space and ideal growing conditions.

UPDATE : My Cycad below in March 2015

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