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Image of Cycas

James H. Schutte



Botanical Name


Plant Common Name

Cycad, Sago

General Description

Long leaves that resemble fern or palm fronds are typical of these slow-growing cycads. Between 80 and 100 species comprise the genus Cycas. It is a group of Old World cycads native to an expansive area that includes Japan, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka as well as Southeast Asia. Member species also occur in Madagascar, the western Pacific and northern Australia. The most diverse species are Australian.

Cycads are ancient plants that date back eons, dominating Earth's vegetation when dinosaurs were at their height. These vascular plants do not flower but produce cones that yield seeds. Cycads are closely related to conifers, such as pines, firs and junipers, even though many resemble palms. Plants in Cycas are dioecious, meaning each individual plant produces either male or female cones.

Stiff leaves emerge from the tips of the trunk-like stems of Cycas cycads. Most species develop an above ground stem, but some form their stem almost completely underground. These cycads also tend to produce suckers and offshoot plants in clusters. New leaves are soft, and the leaflets on each frond are coiled before unfurling. As they age they become very stiff. Depending on species, leaflets are linear and flat or trough-shaped. They may or may not have prickles. Often the lowermost leaflets on the frond have protective spines.

Cycas cones emerge during warm months of the year. Pollen producing male cones are cylindrical and comprise numerous modified leaves that resemble scales. Female cones are more spherical in shape and contain a loose, open cluster of highly specialized leaf structures that house spores that may later become viable seeds.

Most species in this genus are drought tolerant, but all grow faster and look more attractive when the soil remains evenly moist. Even under ideal growing conditions, Cycas are slow-growing plants. Among the most widely grown garden species are the king sago (Cycas revoluta) and the queen sago (C. circinalis). These two species are misleadingly called sago palms because of their palm-like foliage.


  • Plant Type

    Palm or Cycad

  • Native To

    Madagascar, Southern Asia, Southeastern Asia, Melanesia, Australia

Growing Conditions

Ornamental Features

Special Characteristics