Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

April 17, 2015

What to do if your sago palm (cycad) has no leaves

If your sago palm (cycas revoluta) looks more like a fire plug than a small palm tree, like the one here in my backyard, don't panic. If you transplanted it recently, the leaves (actually fronds) may have all shriveled up and died, in which case you were wise to trim them off. So you're left with a fire plug. For a long time. From several months to a year or two.

The most important thing to know is that these plants don't grow continuously. They grow only in short spurts, called *flushes* about once a year. And that's only when they are happy and healthy. If they've gone through stress, or have moved, they may not flush for years. So, before you give up on that sago palm (or any other cycad), here are some things to check:

• Check for firmness of the trunk or *pineapple* (caudex). If it's mushy, the plant is dead, go ahead and pull it up, it will come out easily. It probably smells bad, anyway. If it's still firm, you may still have hope.

• Check the top. You will see some small, soft, brown, tiny fronds there. As long as they're soft to the touch, you should be OK. If you can pull them out, the plant's a goner, it's rotted. By the way, this is why cycad enthusiasts are always checking the tops of their plants - that's where the new growth starts. When the small brown fronds begin to spread out (dilate), you will see a tiny bit of green as the new flush begins. Once it starts, it is very fast.

Sago palms flush in the late spring or early summer. The one here is in a lot of shade, so it will probably be in summer. It's only mid-April, so it's too early for me to be checking for the flush. But that doesn't stop me - I check it all of the time. Come on, flush!
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