Cycas - Cycadaceae - How to care for and grow Cycas plants



The Cycas, they are considered "living fossils" whose study has allowed us to understand the now extinct plants.


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: Gymnosperms











: see the paragraph on "Main species"


The kind Cycas belongs to family of Cycadaceae and includes very ancient plants that have preserved their characteristics over time. I'm originating tropical Asia, Polynesia, East Africa and Australia.

L'appearance and shape they are characteristic and reminiscent of palm trees: they are formed by a central trunk at the top of which there is a tuft of pinnate leaves formed by numerous leaflets. The single leaves of each frond are formed from a central cost assuming both the leaves and the coast a more or less curved downward shape depending on the species.

The peculiarity of all species of the genus Cycas is that I am dioecious speciesthat is, they exist male plants is female plants that is, plants that bear only female flowers and plants that bear only male flowers.

Except from the flower it is impossible, simply by looking at the plant, to know if it is one Male Cycas or one Female cycas .

The male flowers (photo on the side), called microsporophylls, are inserted in a spiral on an elongated axis, forming one strobilio with the single microsporophyllids usually squamiform that carry the pollen sacs (microsporangia) scattered oriuniti in groups called sori.

The flowers form in the center of the tuft of leaves.

The female flowers (photo to the side) are called macrosporophylls and they are also joined in strobili terminals that appear at the top of the stem as dense aggregates of leaves where the ova form at the margins (macrosporangia).

In nature they are pollinated by the wind or by insects. In cultivations, the male cone is usually taken once it has reached maturity (in addition to the appearance it is understood that they are ripe also from the fact that they emanate a very fragrant scent) and shake over the female strobil several times for several days until it is seen that the female flowers close (as in the photo above).

The fruit it's a false drupe which bears a large red-brown seed that develops slowly during the summer and is harvested around January - March of the following year when it will turn from pale yellow to orange-red.

There Cycas manages to grow in an apartment but does not bloom indoors.

They are all very slow growing.


There are several species of Cycas among which we remember:


There Cycas revoluta it is native to Indonesia, China and Japan and reflects all the typical characteristics of the genus: slow growth, splendid deep green foliage that has a folded down habit. Generally in our climates they do not exceed 3 m in height if cultivated in the open air. open and a meter and a half indoors.

It is the most cultivated species in Italy and they are almost all female individuals.


The Cycas they are easy to cultivate because they do not require particular precautions.

They live well at temperatures between -10 ° C and 40 ° C.

They can be grown both indoors and outdoors in climate-controlled regions. They grow quietly in the sun but adapt quite easily to different situations, as long as the light is not too poor that it would risk the plant slipping off (excessive elongation) to the detriment of its posture.

They do not like drafts even if it is important to ensure, in all seasons of the year, a good exchange of the same.

If it is possible starting from June and until September, if reared in the apartment, take them outdoors in a position sheltered from direct sunlight if they have not been kept in direct sun indoors.

In any case, when taking care of this plant, keep in mind that they are very slow growing: on average if grown outdoors the trunk grows about 3 cm per year in height putting 3 new leaves. The situation is more reduced if it is kept in an apartment: only one new leaf and the growth of the stem is quite irrelevant in one year. For this reason the realization of bonsai are very appreciated and used.

A good rule of thumb would be, if you are not interested in obtaining the seed for a possible multiplication of the plant, eliminate the flower (especially in female plants) before it reaches maturity. In this way all the energies that the plant deviates to the production of the fruit and the seed would be used for its growth and would not be dispersed.


There Cycas it is a plant that should be watered every time the soil dries up. The frequency will depend on the temperature and the exposure of the plant: in a plant exposed to full sun the soil will dry out very quickly so it should be watered more often.

Be careful that no water remains in the saucer as they do not tolerate water stagnation in any way.


Repotting in the Cycas, being very slow growing, it is done every 3-4 years when the roots have now occupied all the space available to them, in spring or summer.

When repotting, remember not to use large pots but only a little larger than the previous one. A large pot would favor a greater development of the roots at the expense of the aerial part.

They are not particularly demanding when it comes to land. They grow almost everywhere, the important thing is that it is fertile and well draining as they do not tolerate stagnant water in any way. for example, a good soil can consist of fertile soil, peat, sand or perlite.

It is important to place pieces of earthenware on the bottom of the pot that favor the drainage of excess water or if grown in the ground that is not planted in a depression in the ground where the water could stagnate.


Always in consideration of the fact that the Cycas they are very slow growing, the fertilizations are done every 6-8 weeks starting from spring and throughout the summer. During the other periods they should be suspended.

A liquid fertilizer is used, suitably diluted in the irrigation water that is well balanced, that is to say that it contains both the so-called macroelements such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) also contain the so-called microelements, i.e. the plant needs in minimal quantities (but still needs it) such as magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), boron (B ), molybdenum (Mo), all important for a correct and balanced growth of the plant.


In order to flower, the plant must be at least fifteen years old (i.e. you will have a plant more or less 2 m tall and with a 30 cm trunk) and it blooms in late spring and not every year. Usually, under optimal cultivation conditions, every 2-3 years.


Periodically check the plant (especially if it is outdoors) and remove the older leaves (those located further down) if damaged or yellowed by cutting them as close to the trunk as possible. The practice of eliminating damaged leaves immediately is very important both because they can be carriers of disease and because their elimination stimulates the plant to produce new leaves.

To get rid of the leaves you can simply grab them and pull downwards, this way the leaf will come off whole and you will always have a clean trunk.


The plant of Cycas it propagates by seed or by suckers.

In explaining the different propagation techniques of the Cycas I will try to be as exhaustive as possible, at the limit of pedantry as, being very slow growing and even slower germinating, it would be a shame not to be able to obtain our seedling due to trivial cultivation errors.


The best time to plant the seeds ofCycas it is between March and May.

First you have to put them in a basin with lukewarm water (the seed must go to the bottom; if it floats it means that it has not been pollinated so do not waste time and throw it away). This is a technique called "scarification" which serves to make the outer part of the seed less hard and thus allow it to germinate more quickly. There are other techniques such as the manual incision of the seed but it is more risky if you are not an expert so it is better to use the technique of immersion in lukewarm water.

Leave them to soak for 3 days, changing the water every day after which, remove the external red-orange film and let them dry for 1-2 days. If the red fur does not come off easily, do not force it. It means that it has not been left on the plant to dry out sufficiently. Shut it off with all the film.

Form a soil made up half of sand or perlite and half of peat in order to create a very soft and porous soil with a thickness of about 12-15 cm (depending on the size of the seed).

The seed must be buried as shown in the figure. A very practical empirical way to know which side to bury is to simulate its fall from the tree: drop the seed on a flat, soft surface and watch how it settles. Here, fix it that way, you can't go wrong.

It is necessary to water when the soil on the surface is dry. Do this: first water the soil well and let the excess water drain, then immediately water a second time to be sure that the soil is completely wet.

Once all this has been done, it is now necessary to arm yourself with a lot of patience as the seed will take from 3 to 9 months to germinate, that is to say before the roots and the first leaves appear. When that happens, do me a personal favor, send me a picture that I will post on this page.

Images of Cycas seeds sent by our reader Michele, planted in September that started germinating in June

pictures of Cycas seeds sent by Michele, planted in September that started germinating in June

When the seedling is about 10 cm large (after a few months) transplant it with the same type of soil in jars of 10 cm in diameter, taking it very gently with all the ground bread and simply adding more (if it sprouts in July, on average it is transferred in January of the following year). Within the second year they will be transplanted into 6-inch pots and so on.


The multiplication by suckers can be carried out at any time of the year by taking the basal shoots that form at the base of the plant or along the trunk. The pollen just taken must be left to dry for about a week, time necessary for the wound to heal.

They are usually harvested in late winter or spring and transplanted almost immediately.

The suckers should be planted in a compost formed half of sand or perlite and half of peat and placed in the ground for half their length. If planted too deep they risk rotting, if too much on the surface the roots have little surface to develop.

Use pots slightly larger than the size of the sprout: for example if the sprout is 5 cm use 10 cm pots. The reason for this is that too much soil results in an environment that stays humid for too long which should not be the case if roots are to be developed.

Adjust watering so that the soil is almost dry between irrigations. After several months the roots will begin to appear and at that point start watering much more abundantly.

Wait until the first leaves have also appeared (2 or more depending on the size of the sucker) and have developed a little before doing any fertilization.

At that point you can transplant them into pots a little larger than the previous one (never use large pots) as in large pots the aerial part develops more slowly.

Do not keep the new born in a too bright position which would favor the formation of short leaves and do not disturb it during this period. The only thing you need to be careful to do is turn the plant 1/4 turn towards the light source every day so that the leaves grow evenly.

The new leaves that arise are very tender and must be allowed to harden well.


Leaves that are covered with small brown spots

This symptom is an indication, if in summer of little watering, if in winter of too low temperatures.
Remedies: act accordingly.

Leaves turning yellow

This symptom can indicate both excessive watering and too much fertilizer.
Remedies: act accordingly and eliminate damaged leaves.

Brown spots on the underside of the leaves of the plant

Spots on the underside of the leaves could mean the presence of cochineal and in particular of brown cochineal or mealy cochineal. To be sure, use a magnifying glass and compare them with the photo shown: they are characteristics, you can't go wrong. Also if you try to remove them with a fingernail, they come off easily.

Remedies: remove them with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol or if the plant is large and potted, you can wash it with water and neutral soap, rubbing gently with a sponge to remove the parasites, after which the plant should be rinsed to eliminate all the soap. For larger and outdoor ones, you can use specific pesticides.


They are very ancient plants: fossils of Cycas they were found in the Upper Triassic (about 250 million years ago). In the Cretaceous period (from 66 to 140 million years ago) they had an enormous development, gradually reducing in the tertiary sector.

The Cycas that have reached our days, we can in effect consider them "living fossils" whose study has allowed us to understand fossils of other extinct plants, lived in the past. Personally I think it is extraordinary to think how they survived the geological cataclysms but above all that they still survive, adapting, even to man-made disasters!

They are very long-lived: in the Huntington Gardens in San Marino in California there is a splendid one Cycas almost centennial 5 m high and with a trunk diameter of 4 m.

The Cycas are often confused with the sago palm which I will belong to the genus Metroxilon and in particular Metroxylonsagu of the palm family (photo below). It is from the latter and not from the Cycas which in some of its parts is edible.

La la Metroxylon sagu it is native to Papua and New Guinea and is now widespread in all tropical countries.

In the Sepik area in the northern part of New Guinea and also among the cities of Borneo, this palm is a staple food of the local population. They use the trunk, cut before flowering from which they obtain a starch used to prepare numerous dishes.

Among other things, the larvae of the plank (beetles of the family of Curculionidae) that grow inside these palms.

However, nothing is thrown away from this plant as the branches are used to build huts, mats and baskets. to build the huts, mats and baskets.

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