Macrozamia reidlei in Two Views
Two articles for the price of one, on an interesting
Australian Cycad which many of us know as an easy house plant.
Dr. Maria Jutta Teege & Barry Shelton
Chamaerops No.24, Autumn Edition 1996
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Photo: Big specimen at Forestdale Lake (Photo by
By coincidence, we had two articles on Macrozamia
reidlei in and around Perth, Western Australia, submitted at the
same time, one from Germany and the other from Perth itself. Combining
them into one article seemed the sensible thing to do. The first
is by our regular contributor, Dr. Maria-Jutta Teege
Though their common name is Zamia Palm' they are of
course, not real palms. They belong to the Cycads plant group and
as such are closely related to the conifers. Usually, Zamia Palms'
do not even develop a stem above the 2round, but their bunch of
regularly pinnate fronds looks like the beautiful crown of a feather
palm. Thus came the popular term 'palm'. In the history of the earth,
cycads are very old. Much older than palms. While the first fossil
records of palms date from the mid-cretaceous age about 100 million
years ago, the earliest fossils of cycadophytes come from the Triassic
period, some 225 million years ago. These early cycads were contemporaries
of ferns, tree-ferns and horsetails, and of gingko, early conifers
and seedferns, but no angiosperms (including palms) had vet developed.
The cycads and their companions lived and thrived
in a mostly warm and wet climate for about 125 million years during
the Triassic and Jurassic ages as the dominant land vegetation.
But in the following period, the cretaceous, exciting changes in
climate and continent building began. This was the dawn of the angiosperm
and palms were among the earliest of them. The older flora had difficulty
in competing with the new arrivals. Cycads could only survive in
warm climates, and the subject of this article, Macrozamia reidlei,
is indeed perfectly adapted to the dry open forests of south west
Australia, to where it is endemic. Other cycad species live in the
tropical north and east of the continent, some in New South Wales,
and one is isolated in central Australia. Other species are spread
throughout the tropical world. In and around Perth, Western Australias
capital city, you can find plenty of Zamia Palms' which endure seven
month's drought every year, togeiher with numerous bushfires. Your
first view of them may be in King's Park, a wide area of native
bush, close to the city centre with a rim of lawns and areas of
gardens. If you are lucky you may come across a female plant having
shed bright red seeds from one of its huge cones. All cycads are
dioecious (sexes on separate plants) and the females don't produce
fruits - as the angiosperms do - but only seeds. The fleshy red
layer around the hard seed does not originate from a carpel but
is part of the seed itself. Although they are said to be poisonous,
the seeds have been used by the aboriginal people - after suitable
preparation for thousands of years. Many indigenous animals feed
on this outer red layer, which contains no poison, and leave the
kernel alone, thus assisting with seed distribution.
In open eucalypt woodlands, Zamia Palms' are fascinating
and eye-catching, growing where conditions are too harsh for palms.
The stiff, hard leaves of Macrozamia can withstand hot sun for months
and even after a bushfire the plants soon regenerate from below
ground. In low nutrient, sandy soils close to the ocean coast, these
beautiful plants present a somewhat tropical sight amidst an austere
heath vegetation, and they don't suffer from the salt-laden winds.
The most impressive appearance howex er is of a Zamia
Palm' with a mighty trunk. In Stokes National Park near the southern
ocean west of Esperiance, we saw an individual with a stem about
2m high, and remarkably thick. This plant must be very old as cycads
grow extremely slowly. Its stout figure could be seen as a symbol
for the whole group, which provided companions for the earliest
The second article is by Barry Shelton, 8 Fleetwood
Road, Lynwood, Western Australia 6147
Here in Perth, Western Australia, we have a warm,
sunny climate and palms are a very common feature of parks and gardens,
but unfortunately we have no native palms in the surrounding bush.
The nearest native palm is livistona alfredii, the Millstream Palm,
locally common in the Pilbara region about 1300 kms north of Perth,
but rather difficult to grow here.
We are however extremely fortunate in having native
cycads in and around our city in vast numbers. How many species
this involves is a matter of some debate. Predominantly, or perhaps
entirely, they are Macrozamia reidlei which has stiff, slightly
arching grey-green leaves rising in a V-shape from the rachis. The
vast majority are trunkless and when trunks are seen they seldom
exceed OSm and almost never exceed Im. The plants are extremely
common in native bush around Perth, mostly in forest but also often
in much more open country. Perth has many areas of natural bush
in and around the suburbs and M. reidlei grows in many of them,
including the famous King's Park. lt is also common in suburban
gardens, probably most having been left there when the land was
cleared. Lynette Stewart in her splendid book, 'A Guide to Palms
& Cycads of the World' describes M. reidlei as 'rare'. Whilst
I know that the meaning of the word in botanical circles may not
be quite the same as in common usage, I can only assume that she
never visited Western Australia when preparing the book. There are
hundreds of thousands of these cycads both in and around Perth and
when you consider that they grow over 400 km to the south across
a large area of the south west of our state, plus over 100 kms inland
from Perth, the total number must be huge.
To the north of the city for a distance of some 250
kms the cycads eventually develop sizeable trunks, up to 5m tall.
David Jones in his excellent book, 'Cycads of the World', is confident
that these are separate species naming them as Macrozamia sp. 'Enneabba'.
Most of the local cycad enthusiasts are convinced that these are
merely M. reidiei with trunks. Whilst on a family bushwalk around
Forestdale lake to the south of Perth we found 3 magnificent specimens,
one with a trunk of around 2m, the others with around 1.5m Several
other specimens there seem to have leaves and cones which are longer
than usual. The leaves of the ordinary M. reidlei display considerable
variety. Whilst most are grey-green, some are a very bright green
and very glossy. This may be due to their habitat. Some plants have
leaves that are blue-green and very twisted; I was told that this
was due to some sort of deficiency, certainly they usually appear
to be in poor condition. Then I discovered some with these leaves
that were growing vigorously and were in good condition, having
concluded that they must be a separate variety, I then found some
plants that had both sorts of leaves at the same time, so I'm mystified
by it all.
M. reidlei is extremely hardy; over most of its habitat
temperatures range from -2°C to 46°C, sometimes with no
rain at all for months during the hottest times of the year. They
survive this by storing water in their large caudexes or underground
trunks. They can also survive the frequent, ferocious bush fires.
They appear to be burnt to a blackened stump, but soon burst forth
with a new set of leaves.
I don't know exactly where in Europe they would grow
outdoors. In more northerly latitudes, the combination of cold and
damp would probably be too much for them, but they are very common
along the south coast of W. A. where the summer is much cooler and
where rain falls throughout the year.
Something I have learnt from M. reidlei, and I think
it applies to most cycads is that one should be very wary of giving
them up for dead. A few years back I was offered a couple of them
for free if I removed them from a back garden. The larger of them
turned out to have leaves of more than 2m so I immediately gave
up on that one. I would have needed a crane and a truck. The smaller
one was a rather pathetic thing with just 2 scraggy looking leaves
less than a metre long. lt turned out to have a very large caudex
and by the time I'd finally dug it out I could barely carry it to
the car. I planted it in an ideal spot, plenty of sun and not too
much water, and for a year, nothing happened at all. Then one leaf
died suddenly, then 6 months later the other leaf died. I was not
pleased and decided that I was not going to try with another one.
Then after nearly a year with no leaves at all, over the space of
2 or 3 weeks it produced seven lovely new leaves. That was a couple
of years ago and although nothing has happened since, I still live
in hope of a few more leaves some time before I'm shuffled off to
the old folks' home.
Anyway, we're very lucky to live amongst M. reidlei.
Of around 180 species of cycad in the world there can be very few
to be found in large numbers and there can be very few cities in
the world that have a common native cycad. Come to think of it though,
Sydney does, this is Macrozamia communis, a particularly beautiful
species. It, too, grows well in Perth but is not widely available.
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