It is a very slow-growing, symmetrical plant that produces a crown of shiny, arching, palm-like, evergreen palmate leaves atop a shaggy upright trunk. Trunks take a long time to form (1 inch diameter trunks may take years to eventually reach 12 inch diameter). Young plants typically grow to 2-3ft tall over several years, but may take 50 or more years to eventually reach 10' tall. Arching pinnate leaves (to 3-7' long depending on age) form a loose, feather-like rosette with leaflets to 7 inchlong. Each leaf has a large mid-rib with very narrow, rigid, spiny-tipped, deep green leaflets. Leaflets have revolute edges (margins rolled downward), hence the specific epithet. Young sago palm plants produce leaves intermittently in several different growth spurts per year, however mature plants only produce leaves once per year.
Sago palm's facts
It is easily grown outdoors in sandy, humusy, well-drained soils in full sun to shade.
Sago palm's have slow growth rate, but plants servive a long time.
sago palm's is extremely poisonous to animals (including humans) if ingested. Pets are at particular risk, since they seem to find the plant very palatable. Clinical symptoms of ingestion will develop within 12 hours, and may include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, and liver failure or hepatotoxicity characterized by icterus, cirrhosis, and ascites. All parts of the plant are toxic however, the seeds contain the highest level of the toxin cycasin.
Sago palm's Behavior & Ecology
Sago palm is commonly used gardening plant in Maldives. However it is found in it's native southern Japanese islands hillsides of Kyushu and Ryukyu, and in sparse forests on the Chinese mainland in east Fujian (Lianjiang Xian, Ningde Xian, and some islands). It was formerly widely distributed in east Fujian but is now probably extinct in habitat there due to over collection and habitat destruction. Usually found between 100 and 500 meters altitude.
Sago palm's Reproduction
Plants are either male or female and the reproductive structures are found in the center of the plant. The male organ resembles a large yellow cone that reaches lengths of up to 2 feet. The female organ resembles a yellow furry globe, and it houses many bright orange seeds that are 2 inches in diameter. Female plants will not produce seed without a nearby male, however these plants rarely flower when grown indoors in containers. Males produce upright yellowish ellipsoid pollen cones (to 12-18" tall). Orbicular female cones produce vermilion seeds.Pollination can be done naturally by insects or artificially.
Sago palm's Relationship with Humans
This is the most popular and widely cultivated of the cycads. It makes an excellent landscape plant, as well being very well suited to pot culture.
Sago palm habitat
Today plants occur primarily on steep to precipitous stony sites, but previously they occurred on flatter land which has since been cleared. Usually grow in exposed locations on steep limestone cliffs and rocks overhanging the shoreline, sometimes in low dense forest in heavy shade.
Sago palm threats
There has been massive seed collecting from natural habitats and leaves are exported in large numbers for decorative purposes. Habitat has also been cleared.