The Q&A Archives: Sago

Question: I just bought a sago today and it has a new leaf so it is very healthy and I want to maintain its health. Can you tell me the history of this plant and how I can protect it and watering instructions? It had minimal lighting in the store which the sales girl said it seems to be OK with and she has been babying it along. It came with these little stones glued down in the dirt for decoration we think. Should I get rid of the stones or are they some kind of value to the plant?

Answer: Growing of Cycas revoluta is not difficult. It is planted in a cactus mix which is a combination of decomposed granite, sand and rocks. This is to protect it from overwatering at the garden center. You're right - it turns into something like concrete when it dries out. You can leave the plant in the planting mix, or you can repot it. If you repot it, use cactus mix so it drains quickly. Otherwise, it will develop root rot. Sago palms are very slow growing so don't expect lots of new growth every year. Usually they develop only one or two leaves a year.

The Sago Palm can be grown inside the house near a bright window. Like other cycads, they do not want to be over-watered. Let the soil dry out a bit before watering. Try to avoid overhead watering; this may cause rot and possibly total decay of the plant. The soil mix should be quick draining. Overall, it is an available species that is quite versatile and easy to grow. It is usually free from pests but can occasionally get into problems with scale or mealybug, which should be treated. Fertilizing with a balanced tropical fertilizer with microelements will usually suffice. Sagos typically throw a new set of leaves during the Spring or Summer.

Here's your history lesson:
The Sago Palm has become a very popular landscape item. Most people don?t realize that it is not a palm at all, but rather a Cycad. Cycads are a group of plants that are very primitive in their origins. Fossils have been found on almost every continent on the planet. It is often stated that cycads have evolved little since the days of the dinosaurs. There are species that have gone extinct, while there are others that seemed to show little evolution over millions of years. Therefore as a group, cycads are often referred to as ?living fossils?. The scientific name for the Sago Palm is Cycas revoluta. Cycas refers to the genus, the genus refers to a particular group of similar plants in the Cycad family and revoluta further describes the exact species of the group Cycas. The latter was given to this species because of the revolute (to curl back) nature of the leaflets; the edges roll under the leaflet.

The Sago Palm is the most propagated and sold cycad in the world. It is seen in almost all botanical gardens, in temperate and tropical locations and in many areas of the world it is heavily promoted commercially as a landscape plant. Unfortunately, its common name "Sago Palm" has obscured the fact that it is actually a cycad. Other names for this species include the sago palm tree, the king sago, and, because of unfamiliarity with it, the palm cycad.

Hope this answers all your questions.

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