Cycas Revoluta - Ancient & Modern

Tony turns the spotlight on Cycas revoluta - the Sago Palm. Why is it called 'revoluta'? Why is it called 'Sago'? Why is it called a palm? And is it really hardy? Tony reveals all.
Tony King, 34 Keats Avenue, Romford, Essex
Chamaerops No.22, Spring Edition 1996

Photo: Cycas revoluta in Barcelona, Spain

I guess that many readers will be familiar with 'The Sago Palm', Cycas revoluta, which, of course, is not a true palm at all but a member a plant family of ancient lineage: the Cycads. Sooner or later it's a fair bet that even the most modest collector of botanical exotica will discover this wonderful, architectural plant and fall in love with its appearance and unique history.

Ancient History And Wild Origins

Cycads are a group of plants that can trace their origins back directly to plants that thrived on earth at the time of the dinosaurs. Whilst it would be incorrect to say that they are unchanged from those times, they do still retain characteristics considered primitive when compared to most other living plants.

Cycas revoluta originates from the southern tip of the Japanese island of Kyushu, and the Ryukyu islands which include Okinawa and Iriomote. Here they mostly occupy nearvertical limestone cliffs around the coast or more rarely on forest floors. lt is odd that many species of cycad grow on such steep sites, as a number of Encephalartos species I was fortunate to see in habitat in South Africa were perched on cliff ledges. As for our Revoluta's, they naturally experience a very harsh environment, battered by sea gales laden with salt spray, drought and occasional snow. Temperatures vary greatly, given the wide distribution of the islands that make up its home. These can average 7°C in winter to around 33°C in summer, though as mentioned, snow can be a feature in some areas. Recent estimates put the wild populaton at around several hundred thousand throughout its distribution.

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