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It is native to Japan and has deep green semi-gloss leaves up to four feet long. It can grow to heights of 20 feet. It is commonly referred to as a palm, although it is actually a Cycad. The plant I am talking about is the Sago palm (Cycas revolute).
This beautiful plant grows easily in zones 8b to 11 and, if carefully cared for, it can be maintained in hardiness zones 7b to 8a. The sago is grown mainly for its uses in the landscape. I have seen it used in commercial plantings from Prattville south.
The sago prefers sandy, well-drained soil with some composted organic matter. Heavy, compacted soils will cause root rot. It grows well in either full sun or filtered light. When grown indoors, the sago will require bright light.
The plant can tolerate some frost. Frond damage can occur when the temperature reaches a low of 25°F. In fact, several years ago a friend in Vestavia Hills suffered a loss of two mature sago palms planted around her pool. They didn’t completely die, but half of the leaves turned brown (sable tan, actually). The leaves didn’t fall off, but were dead. She found a spray paint almost a perfect match to the living leaves and sprayed the tan fronds. It looked so good most folks never noticed the difference! I thought that was quite an ingenious endeavor to save the existing plants.
The leaves of the sago are widely used in floriculture arrangements. The sago also makes an attractive bonsai plant.
A word of caution: ALL parts of the sago are toxic to both animals and humans. The seeds are especially dangerous to animals because they are apparently quite tasty. If any part of the plant is ingested, contact the poison control center right away. Permanent damage to the gastrointestinal system can result from eating the sago and, in high enough doses, death from liver failure can occur.
Cultivation is relatively easy but does require both a male and female plant to fertilize the seeds. The male plant will produce a cone in its crown; whereas the female will produce a flower. Mother Nature fertilizes them with wind, lizards and other pollinating phenomena. I use the old manual method of removing the mature male cones and shaking them over the flowers of the female flowers on each of my plants during the summer-bloom cycle. By November, I am harvesting seeds to store and to plant. When you are ready to plant the seeds, soak them in water for a few days to re-hydrate their orange outer covering to make it easier to remove. Place your germinating tray filled with four to five inches of good quality growing medium in about 70 percent shade. (The young leaves are tender and will burn in full sun.) Press the seeds into the medium sideways == not up and down. Leave the seeds partially exposed (about 20 percent of the surface) as they require light in order to germinate. Keep the seeds well-watered.
Another method of propagation is by removing the offshoots of baby leaves along the trunk of a taller mature plant. Offshoots from the base of a mature plant, often called pups, can be removed and planted. Make sure to allow the pups to callus for a couple of days before planting.
I hope you’ll grow some sago palms. I think this is one of the most beautiful sub-tropical ornamentals to grow.
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