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What is a Sago Palm?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Cycas revoluta, or the sago palm, makes a uniquely popular ornamental plant. Descriptions of the sago palm include lengthy, feather-like green leaves with a trunk that varies in thickness. Also named the King Sago palm, the roots of the rugged tree may be traced back millions of years ago as part of the Cycad family. The sago palm tree tolerates a wide range of temperatures as well as dry-to-humid conditions. It may also be planted and fed indoors or outdoors with water and humus soil.

Sago palms grow with features that resemble those of other palm trees. They are identifiable by their evergreen, glossy, and long leaves. The "flowers" of the plants consist of large cones and plum-shaped, yellow or tan seeds that grow on the leaves. The sago palm plants have a reputation for growing slowly, producing an upright, wooden tree trunk that ranges from 1 inch (approximately 2.54 cm.) to 12 inches in diameter (about 30.40 cm).

Found worldwide, sago palms have been regarded as among the oldest living types of palms. The ornamental plants come from the Cycad family, which also includes ginkgo and conifer trees. While the palms are native to Japan, they may be planted anywhere depending on the climate and other conditions. Cycads are also nicknamed "living fossils" because the tree species, including the sago and other cone-bearing plants, have been around since the prehistoric Permian and Mesozoic eras of more than 200 million years ago. Some Cycad species are now extinct, and those that still exist remain unchanged in their plant structures.

Considered to be one of the oldest living plants to cultivate, sago palms adjust well to a variety of temperatures. They grow at a slow pace whether the temperature is 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-9.4 degrees Celsius) or 110 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 43 degrees Celsius). Gardening experts note, however, that these types of palms may grow a little faster when planted outside of containers. Seeds of the sago may be planted in a backyard garden or another open space. Smaller varieties of these palms are most likely to be planted into containers for indoor displays.

Sago palm trees thrive in bright areas with rich, water-draining soil. These ornamental plants accept bright rooms or full sunlight, with occasional shade to avoid burnout. Gardeners and horticultural experts suggest planting sago palms just above the soil line to avoid water-logged conditions that can kill the leaves or the entire plant. The trees should be treated similarly to cacti by giving them well-drained, humus soil, and only small amounts of liquid fertilizer. Soil should dry out between plant waterings, which are usually necessary every two or three weeks.

Landscapes and floral displays are among the common uses of sago palms, particularly because of their long, feather-shaped leaves. With enough sunlight or bright indoor light, new and larger leaves may grow every spring and summer. Cycas revoluta and related species have also been used in traditional ceremonies, and as medicine and food. Contemporary science, however, considers the seeds, leaves, and stems poisonous.

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