This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

June 10, 2015

What is a cycad?

I like cycads. And when I tell people that, usually they say, "what the heck is a cycad?" Of course, this hurts my feelings a little bit, because they're my favorite plants, but I guess I understand.

A cycad is a plant that looks like a little palm. A "sago palm" is a cycad. A cycad can also look like a fern. But cycads aren't palms, or ferns. But really, I don't care. I wanted a tropical look to my garden, and since ferns don't grow well in the Phoenix area, and palms are too darn big, I discovered cycads.

If you go shopping for cycads, expect some blank looks. Most of the hard-working people at garden centers have never even heard of cycads. It's best to just ask for sago palms.

But if you want the plants I'm showing in this picture, you will need to find cycads, and a place where people know about them. Be prepared to speak some Latin!

The cycads that you see there are dioons. The ones in the foreground are dioon edules, and the bigger ones are dioon spinulosums. Yep, that's what they're called. There are common names for them, but I've never heard anyone use them. Take a look at the label on the pot, plants always have the Latin name. And don't worry about mispronouncing the names - no one really knows what Latin sounded like, anyway. I tell people that I could speak Latin when I was five years old - you know, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops. And just like "T-Rex", cycad people tend to call these plants "Spinners" (not Spinulosums, see what I mean?).

I've had cycads here at The Tropical Paradise for over twenty years and they do great. They grow very slowly, but I'm OK with that. They're miniature plants, and I like miniatures - just look at my dog!

Cycads of the 1800s Cork Coaster
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