The sago palm is botanically known as Cycas revoluta. Although their appearance is quite similar to a palm, they do not belong to the palm family. They are cycads, belonging to the division Cycadophyta. Sago palms are characterized by a stout trunk and a large crown of bright green compound leaves. Native to southern Japan, these are now popularly cultivated as ornamental landscaping plants or an indoor houseplants in warm temperate and subtropical regions.
This is a very slow growing plant, and it needs a good 50-100 years to reach its maximum height of 20 feet. Its trunk is low and it has multiple branching, with each branch producing new leaf heads. The leaves are bright green and glossy, curved towards the end, and about 20-60 inches long. When a sago reaches the reproductive age, it bears a feather-like rosette. Being dioecious in its sexual reproduction patterns, the male plants bear cones and the female plants bear groups of megasporophylls separately. The sago palms belongs to the Mesozoic Era, and for this reason are known as living fossils.
Sago palm is a long living plant. It does not like to be moved once planted. Moreover, as its spread is quite large, the location for planting must be chosen with care for proper growth. This ancient plant is extremely hardy, and it will survive extreme heat, cold, or even frost. It enjoys light, but not direct harsh sun, as the leaves tend to turn a yellow-brown with too much sun exposure. It must be grown in partially shaded areas outdoors, and towards a source of light indoors. It does very well in well-drained and sandy soil rich in humus. Although tolerant of drought, it cannot withstand too much water, so avoid swampy locations and water-retaining soil for plantation. Water the plant when the top soil completely dries up. The sago palm does not like too much watering, especially in winters. 2-3 applications of a balanced fertilizer during its active growth season, i.e., March to September, is more than enough to keep this plant healthy. Avoid excess fertilizing, as it will wilt the leaves.
An infestation of scales can ruin the appearance of the sago palm, turning the leaves yellow. Scales appear as tiny, and sometimes sticky, white spots on the underside of the plant's leaves. Unchecked, they can spread to the trunk and roots as well.
- Large Leaves:
Although not one of the major problems with sago palms, its beautiful leaves need to be kept clean and free of all wind-blown leaves or dead insects that get trapped in its fronds. Rotting debris can cause an array of fungal infections, damaging the plant.
Although a popular landscaping plant, sago palm does not find much favor with home garden growers, especially pet owners, because of its high levels of toxicity. Within 12 hours of consuming the fronds of this plant, pets and humans can experience internal bleeding, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, liver failure, etc. According to the Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA), a fatality rate of 50 to 75% after ingesting sago palm has been estimated among pets.
Another problem with this plant is its slow growth rate, only a couple of inches every year. But then, a true plant enthusiast does not really mind the wait!