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Sago Palm Tree

Sago Palm tree in the wild

The scientific name for the Sago Palm is – Cycas revoluta.  The Sago "Palm" is actually a cycad. Cycads are known to be among the oldest plants on earth, unchanged for millions of years, originating in East Africa. This slow-growing palm is very cold-hardy and can grow in zone 7b. This palm can be grown in states like Alaska, Alabama, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and more.

Sago Palm Tree Info

Scientific name: Cycas revoluta

Common names: It is also called Japanese Sago Palm, King Sago Palm, and Sago Cycas.

Family: Arecaceae

Origin: Native to Japan.

Appearance: Young specimens have thick shaggy subterranean trunk 8-10 inches in diameter.  Trunks can branch multiple times, creating multiple heads of leaves. As the palm matures, it might produce suckers at its base forming a large multi-stem clump over time.

The Sago Palm has pinnate, or feather-like leaves that are 4-5ft long and 10 inches wide. The Sago Palm Tree is a very symmetrical plant with fronds growing in a circular pattern creating a rosette. Leaves are dark green, glossy, with stiff, pointed leaflets. Leaflets are narrow, only 4-7 inches long, and have strongly recurved edges. In late spring or early summer, sagos produce light green spikes of new leaves, called a ‘break’. They slowly unfold growing to the ultimate length of the leaf.

Flowers/Fruits: It takes Sago Palm around 13 years to start to bloom. The Sago Palm is dioecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. The female inflorescence is feather-like, later forming a tightly packed seed head, closely covered by whitish miniature leaves. The male cone is pineapple-shaped. When it is time to pollinate, female sagos begin to flower and male sagos produce cones.

Growth Rate: Slow. Cycas revoluta is a very slow-growing palm that can get up to 7-10ft tall. It could take 70-100 years for the Sago Palm to reach its maximum height.

Outdoor/Indoor Use: Both.

Cold Tolerance: The Sago Palm can tolerate cold weather down to 5F. Leaves may be damaged and turn yellow at temperatures below 10 degrees. It is great for growing in USDA Zones 7b (5 to 10 F) to 11 (above 40 F).

Light Req: Partial shade.

Water Req: Moderate. The soil for growing this palm should be well-drained and rich in humus.

Maintenance: Easy. To prevent nutritional deficiency, apply good quality palm fertilizer that has continuous release formula twice a year during the growing season.

Insects and Diseases: If you notice that your Sago palm is getting yellow leaves, be aware that the natural course of leaves on plants, including palms and cycads, is first green, then turning yellow, and finally brown. The yellow stage is where the frond is losing its chlorophyll as it is being reabsorbed into the plant. The final brown stage is the completion of the nutrients re-absorption process and is nothing to worry about.

If  you cut off sago fronds too soon, you are actually depriving your sago palm of its natural technique to conserve nutrients. Best is to wait until a frond is totally brown and shriveled up small pieces.

The exception to not being worried about yellow or brown fronds on your sago palm is if they are occurring in the center “new growth” area. If new fronds soon turn yellow and head for brown, you have a nutrition problem. You are not feeding properly. Sometimes sago palm may take a year or two or more to develop the “quick yellowing” symptom. Don’t let that fool you.

Bugs may also be the problem, but not nearly as likely as improper feeding. Poor drainage may also be the problem, but not if your sago palm is well established in its location. Newly planted in your soil or a pot, poor drainage is a suspicion. A final suspicion for newly planted sago is that you planted it too deep.

Propagation: Propagation of sago palms is either by seed or by removal of offshoots or pups. Seeds will germinate within 3-9 months. But it may require more than three years of growth to reach a small bulb size of 1″ in diameter.

Soak seed in water for several days, then remove the red skin, but leave the white hard seed coat. Plant the seed in well-drained soil.

Sago palms can be propagated by offsets or pups. Remove the pups growing at the base or along the sides of mature Sagos. Remove all the leaves and roots from the pups. Allow the raw spot to dry and plant in well-drained soil or a sandy mixture so that half the ball or trunk is below soil level. Water thoroughly to ensure rapid growth.

Roots will slowly begin to form and the first leaves appear several months later. At that time, apply a mild dose of fertilizer and water when almost, but not completely dry. Before re-potting, allow the new plants to form a good root system.

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