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

July 17, 2016

How to tell if your cycad (sago palm) is alive or dead

Cycads are strange plants. They're beautiful, and look like small palm trees, or large ferns. They grow very slowly, and can be very expensive, even common ones like "sago palms".

But sago palms, in spite of their common name, aren't palms at all. They belong to a group of plants called cycads. They are wonderfully weird, and grow in strange ways. And sometimes they lose all of their leaves.

Of course, if it were a palm tree that lost all of its leaves, you would know that the plant was dead. But it's not true of cycads. So don't dig that cycad up and throw it away! Not yet.

If you've recently transplanted a cycad, and the leaves have all faded away, hang on. Take a look at the top center of the plant, at what I call "the pucker". There you will see some stubby, soft fronds, no more than an half-inch or so. At least that's what you should see. That means that the plant is still alive, and has dropped its leaves to focus on building root structure. If, however, the pucker is hard and dry, or if it's all mushy, the plant is dead. Sorry.

Take a look at the photo at the top of this post. This plant is still alive. See the soft "pucker" (towards the upper right)? All of the leaves have dropped off since it was transplanted two years ago, but it was a "bare root" transplant, and all of the roots couldn't be saved. So, hopefully, it's growing more roots. It's certainly not dead.

So, there's really nothing to do but wait. And there's definitely no reason to dig the plant up and throw it away. Cycads grow very slowly, and live for hundreds of years, so if it takes it a few years to establish, it's really nothing to these plants. Be patient.

Sago palm (cycas revoluta) flushing, which means that it's growing new leaves. This usually only happens once a year, sometimes twice. This is what you're waiting for!

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