When Is A Palm Not A Palm?

Sago palms have been around for 200 million years. Fortunately, it doesn't take that long to grow one.
Sago palms can reach 4 to 6 feet in height. Though called a palm, they are actually a member of the Cycadaceae family, which includes pines and firs.

Sagos (Cycas revoluta) seem to be planted in everyone’s yard around here. This popular ornamental creates a dramatic forest-green tropical accent and a bold contrast in texture once it’s big enough. Although sagos grow slowly, they’re easy to care for, and have few pests.

I found one growing in the edge of a wooded area where the previous owner had thrown it away thinking that it was dead, I guess. I dragged it out and planted it near the fence. With its three little fronds, it’s not beautiful yet, but all I need is patience. It’s been in the ground now for three months with no apparent change.

The sago, although it looks like a short palm tree, is not a palm. It’s a cycad imported from Japan. The cycads are gymnosperms (all seed-bearing plants are either gymnosperms or angiosperms), and there are many more angiosperms on the planet than gymnosperms. Other gymnosperms are ginkgoes and conifers such as pines, firs and spruces.

Gymnosperms are more primitive, lack flowers and reproduce by seeds borne naked on a bract, most often in a cone. Angiosperms are more advanced and have true flowers and seeds enclosed in ovaries. In doing the research on sagos, I found that there’s an organization dedicated to cycads and their preservation at www.cycad.org. (Who knew?) I learned from their website that seeds take three months or more to germinate and that most sagos sold for home landscaping are produced asexually by separating pups from mature plants.

Read the entire article in the February 2007 issue