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

September 1, 2016

Which cycads to begin your collection with

If you've just discovered the world of cycads, and are ready to start your collection, that's great. I've had a wonderful "addiction" to these plants for about twenty years now, and as addictions go, it's pretty healthy. However, like any addiction, it can get expensive, and it can get overwhelming. So my recommendation is to start out slowly.

I started with "sago palms" (cycas revoluta), which are very common here in the Phoenix area. They're much cheaper than the more exotic types of cycads, but they're still not cheap compared to, say, an ordinary little palm tree. But cycads aren't ordinary little palm trees, and you already know that.

So go get a sago palm. Yes, you should call it a sago palm, that's what the people at Home Depot call it. At some point you're gonna have to speak Latin, but not quite yet. Plant it in the most shade you can find on your property (yes, sagos can take sun, but we're just starting out here, remember?). Dig a nice deep hole, be sure it's up on a slope to allow good drainage, and fill with cactus potting mix.

In the photo at the top of this post is my sago palm in a premium area of my backyard, facing east and with some dappled shade from a tree. This one has only been here for a couple of years, but it's doing well. By the way, it's normal for a cycad to have slightly stunted leaves for the first few flushes.

Beginning flush on a sago palm (cycas revoluta)

Oh yeah, let's talk about flushes. You're a cycad person now! A flush is when the leaves of a cycad grow, usually only once a year. unlike palm trees, which grow continuously. So for 11 months out of the year cycads don't do anything - they just sit there. Then, in the summertime, they suddenly begin growing, in what's called a flush, which is quite a sight to see. Cycad collectors love flushes, as you can imagine! By the way, don't plant, or transplant a cycad that's flushing, leave it alone. When it's done, which only takes a couple of weeks, go ahead and move it.

Another cycad that does well in the Phoenix area, but isn't as easy to find as a sago palm, is a coontie, also called a Zamia. That's the little one there on the right. They grow in a more bushy way, with multiple heads. You plant them the same as any other cycad - on a slope with good drainage, but they like a little bit more water. They're mostly from Florida!

Once you're comfortably settled into the world of cycads, it's time to speak Latin, and get some dioon edules and dioon spinulosums. And now you gotta be specific, and you gotta pay more money. Dioons aren't the extremely rare types you read about, but they're not common "sago palms". They have a nice bluish color, which I like. Oh yeah, and if you say that you can't speak Latin, I say that you just need to remember how easily you said "Tyrannosaurus Rex" when you were a kid.

And here's a final thought - cycads live for hundreds of years, so you'll only be caring for them for your short lifetime of maybe 100 or so. They grow very, very slowly so while you need to don't worry about what they'll get when they're full grown (which for one planted by seed today will probably be the year 2500, you should give them room to stretch out their leaves - not too close to where people walk.

Oddly enough, cycad additions seem to mostly strike middle-aged men. It can get very serious, and can lead to wanting to own every type of cycad in the world. It can also lead to helping preservation of this unique plant, and its native habitats all over the world.

Welcome to the wonderful world of cycads! You've just made your world, and the whole world, a little bit better.
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