July 28, 2016
Why you are seeing strange growths on your cycads (sago palms, dioons, etc.)
If you have a cycad that is suddenly producing a strange growth, that looks like a cone, don't panic. It's perfectly normal.
Cycads are a group of plants that create cones as part of their reproductive cycle, like pine trees. Yes, I know that they look like palm trees, but they're not. So, in spite of common names like "sago palm" or "virgin palm", they're not palms. So you can relax.
Seeing a cycad coning is actually kind of cool. It means that it's a mature plant that is finally ready to begin the process of reproduction. And, unlike most plants, cycads have two genders. That is, a plant is either a male, or a female. And, like people, they need to be a certain age before they are mature enough to become parents. And, like people, they need to be close to a cycad of the opposite gender that is also at the right time for it to reproduce. And if you think about it, it's not a very efficient way for a plant to reproduce, which is why most plants don't do this is way, and is why most plants aren't as endangered as cycads.
Most plants flower, but cycads don't. They've been around since before plants evolved that ability. That's why cycads are sometimes referred to as "living fossils". Yeah, they were around in the times of the dinosaurs, long before flowering plants. Of course, flowers gave all of the other plants an edge in reproduction, and plants that didn't do that, like cycads, kind'a faded away. It's amazing that they're still on planet earth.
So that's what you're looking at there - cones. The plant in the picture at the top of this post is a Dioon edule in my backyard in Glendale. The plant is probably about twenty years old, and I've had it here for over fifteen years, and it's coned many times. But in a way, it's kind of sad. This mature plant has no females nearby, as far as I know, and certainly no females that have ever coned at exactly the same time that he has. So he cones, and the cones fade away and fall apart.
By the way, the cones are very poisonous to us humans, and to our pets, so when you cut them off, wear gloves and dispose of the cones promptly. I like to look at them for a while, and when they start getting ratty, I cut them off.
Posted by Brad Hall