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Cycas revoluta Thunb. 1782
pronounced: SY-kass rev-oll-YOO-tuh
(Cycadaceae – the Sago Palm family)
common names: Sago Palm, King Sago Palm, Japanese Sago Palm
Cycas is derived from the Greek κοιξ, κοικος (koix, koikos), their name for the palm Hyphaene thebaica. The word was also used for a palm basket. Revoluta is from the Latin revolutus, rolled back, referring to the way the leaflets on the young leaves curl under along their edges.
This is a native of thickets on hillsides on the southern Japanese islands of Kyushu and Ryukyu, and in sparse forests on the Chinese mainland nearby, thus growing further north than any other cycad. It is very hardy, enduring drought and light frosts – there are several specimens growing in sunny corners outside the Temperate House at Kew Gardens in London.
The growth habit of Cycas revoluta gives an upright trunk from about 2 – 30 cm depending on age, and up to 6 m tall in very old plants, topped with stiff feather-like leaves growing in a circular pattern. The trunks are rough, and retain the old leaf bases of previous leaves. Younger plants look like a rosette of leaves coming from a stem near the ground.
Rather than continuously adding new foliage, the plant produces a periodic flush of new leaves, called a ‘break’. As the plant develops, offsets begin to grow at the base, and occasionally in the crown. These offsets provide a source of new plants, and many possibilities for developing a unique specimen. The leaves are a dark olive green, and about 90 – 120 cm long when the plants are of a reproductive age. The petioles have small protective barbs that must be avoided during pruning.
As with other cycads, the Sago Palm is dioecious, with male and female parts being borne on separate plants. The male reproductive organ is a cone, about 30 cm in length. The female inflorescence is feather-like, gold or tan-yellow in colour, later forming a tightly packed seed head, closely covered by whitish miniature leaves. Brownish red seeds are produced, about 3 cm in diameter.
Although these plants are possible to transplant, this should not be done while its leaves are unfurling, as the leaves will become distorted, and spoil the symmetrical appearance of the plant for many years.
The terminal shoots are reputed to be astringent and diuretic, and an expectorant and a tonic are produced from the leaves. The seeds are used in the treatment of rheumatism.
This is one of the most popular and widely planted of all the cycads. It makes an excellent landscape plant, as well as being well suited to pot culture. In the garden, it is best kept away from paths, because its leaves are quite spiky. The plants photographed were in the garden of one of the houses in the Dunoon development at the northern end of the Picnic Bay foreshore.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 10th November 2016