What are cycads? | Gardening On

Cycas are primitive plants

Image – Flickr / brewbooks

Do you know what cycad plants are? By the name you may think of the cica, whose scientific name is Cycas rolleda shrub that is widely grown in gardens and pots, and you certainly would not go astray. In fact, she is one of the species that make up this family that began its evolution before the dinosaurs did 300 million years ago.

All of them are very similar, but the truth is that when you start to compare them you see that they have small details that make them unique.

Origin and characteristics of cycads

Cicas are slow growing plants

Cycas are slow growing plants.

Our protagonists They are primitive plants, whose origin dates back to the Permian300 million years ago and reached a peak of abundance and diversity in the Mesozoic, that is, about 250 million years ago. At that time dinosaurs already inhabited the Earth, and there were many who fed on cycads.

Today, grow naturally in the Southern Hemispheresuch as in Mexico, Central America, Australia, South America, or parts of Africa. Although its diversity of species is still very interesting, with 300 being accepted, unfortunately there are many that are in danger or on the way to extinction.

They are classified within the group of gymnosperm plantsa term that translates as “naked seed” referring to its non-protection. And it is that, unlike angiosperms, the seeds are exposed from the first moment in which they begin their development; This means that they do not have any shell or the like to protect them.


Related article:

Angiosperms and gymnosperms

Classification of cycads

Cycads are a total of 2 families, made up of 10 to 11 genera with about 300 species. Its most accepted botanical classification is the one developed in 2011:

  • Order: Cycadales.
    • Cycadaceae family. About 107 species, native to East Africa, Japan and Australia.
      Examples: all Cycas.
    • Family Zamiaceae: There are 9 genera with some 206 species, originating from tropical and subtropical Africa, Australia and America.
      Examples: Dioon, Bowenia, Macrozamia, Lepidozamia, Encephalartos, Stangeria, Ceratozamia, Microcycas, and Zamia.

What uses do they have?

The cicas are dioecious

cycas are dioecious


Cycads are plants that are used mostly as ornamental plants. They have a certain resemblance to palm trees -although they are actually very different plants-, and also they are very easy to take care of.


The stem and seeds of the Cycas produce starch called sago or sago that, after having undergone treatments to eliminate toxicity, can be consumed.

Which are your principal characteristics?

These are plants with a trunk that can reach 20 meters in height and a thickness of 30 to 40 centimeters. It is crowned by pinnate leaves that are arranged in a spiral and are usually between 2 and 4 meters long.

To multiply, they have developed strobili or cones consisting of an axis and leaves that carry ovules (megasporophils) if they are female specimens or in leaves that carry pollen (microsporophils) if they are male. These structures are yellowish in color, being those of the male specimens frequently larger than those of the female ones.

The seeds are usually pink, orange or redcolors that serve to attract animals such as turtles or bats, who will take care of keeping them away from the mother plants, taking them to their shelters. Some will serve as food, but many others will germinate.

Cycad varieties for garden

If you want to have some, then we are going to talk about the most popular ones:

Cycas circinalis

Cycas circinalis is a very beautiful plant

The Cycas circinalis is a very beautiful plant

Called queen sago, elegant cica, or long-leaved cicas, it is a species native to Sri Lanka, where can reach 6 meters in height. The leaves are dark green, reaching up to 2,4 meters.

It resists weak and occasional frosts of up to -2ºC.

Cycas rolled

The cica is a living fossilThe cica is a living fossil

Image – Flickr / Raquel and Ives

Known as the cica, sago or true sago of India, it is a species native to southern Japan that can reach a height of 7 metersalthough the normal thing is that it does not exceed 3-4 meters in cultivation. The leaves are green and are up to 130 centimeters in length.

Resists up to -11ºC.

Cycas Gardengarden of cycads

Dion Edu

The Dioon edule is a shrubThe Dioon edule is a shrub

Image – Wikimedia / Hedwig Storch

It is known as a chamal, and it is originally from Mexico. Grows to a height of 3-4 meterswith leaves up to 150 centimeters in length. It has no thorns.

Resists up to -4ºC.

Encephalartos woodii

The Encephalartos woodii is a cycadThe Encephalartos woodii is a cycad

Image – Flickr / 5u5

It is called the Wood’s cycad, and it is endemic to Natal in South Africa. It can reach 6 meters in heightwith a trunk up to 50 centimeters in diameter. The leaves are quite long, and can be up to 2,5 meters long.

Resists cold, but not frost.

Zamia furfuracea

View of the Zamia furfuraceaView of Zamia furfuracea

Image – Flickr / Leonora (Ellie) Enking

Called as Florida arrowroot, it is an endemic plant of the southeast of Veracruz, in Mexico. It reaches a maximum height of 1 meter, with a cylindrical trunk of about 30 centimeters in diameter.. The leaves are green and pinnate, with broader leaflets than other cycads.

It resists frosts down to -3ºC.

Zamia furfuraceaZamia furfuracea

Related article:

Zamia, a slightly different cycad

What do you think of these plants? Did you know what its characteristics were? We hope you have learned a lot about them so that you can enjoy them in your garden .

What are cycads? | Gardening On

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