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

November 22, 2015

How to determine the gender of your cycad (sago palm)

Unlike most plants, cycads, like sago palms, are dioecious. That is, the plants are either male or female. And yes, you can tell the gender of your sago palm, but only when it's coning.

Cycads are strange plants. Even though they look like small palm trees, or large ferns, they're actually most closely related to pine trees. You know, the trees with the cones. And when your cycad gets old enough to begin its reproductive cycle (it usually has to be at least 25 years old), it will produce cones.

If you have a male cycad, when it cones, it will look like, well, a cone. That is, it will be a familiar shape, you know, like pine trees have. If yours is a female, like the one at the top of this post, the cone will be less "coned shaped", but casual cycad collectors like me still call it a cone.

The reproductive process is a familiar one. The female must be in a receptive state to accept the pollen from the male, the female produces the seeds, which the male makes viable with its pollen. In the wild, pollen is spread either by wind or by insects. In captivity, cycad pollen is applied with the help of humans. Many cycads are critically endangered, mostly through loss of habitat, so humans have been helping with this for many years now, to protect species.

So, if you're becoming interested in cycads, do what I do: When you see a plant of good size, go take a peek and see if it's coning. I took the photo at the top of post on the campus where I'm an adjunct faculty, and my best guess is that it was planted in 1965, when the building that it's next to was built, and, adding a few years to allow for it to be of some useful planting size when it was originally planted, it's a minimum of 50 years old, maybe 60 or more. Cycads live for hundreds of years, so I'll make a point to take another photo of this nice old girl again.

Male sago palm coning

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