The 28 species of Encephalartos (cycads) found in Southern and Tropical Africa are living fossils.

Cycads are present day representatives of plants which grew more than 200 million years ago.

They have remained virtually unchanged since then and are extremely slow growing.

Indigenous Cycad species require a permit and even seedlings from a legitimate plant will have to be accounted for. The reason being the extensive illegal trade in plants that have just about eliminated Cycads in some parts of our country.

All Cycads are propagated from seed or from slow growing suckers. There are separate male and female plants. These can be distinguished when the cones are formed.

Plants from certain Encephalartos species are available from legitimate growers.

Although not difficult as a garden plant, growing Encephalartos is seen as a specialized hobby, expensive and not pursued by the average gardener.


Cycas revoluta

Exotic Cycads belonging to Cycas, Dioon and Zamia families can be grown without permit in South Africa.

Also known as Sago palm, Cycas revoluta is from Japan and a great focal plant that adds texture to a garden. Remember the sharp leave tips can be an irritating problem when plants are too close to a pathway.

The plants are reasonably fast growing and easy to propagate. A happy plant can produce new leaves three times a year.

Water and fertilizer requirements are low. Fertilize only once a year with a suitable slow release product.

Cycas revoluta prefers a well-drained neutral soil with ph 6.5 to 7.0.

Side shoots/suckers can be removed and planted at the start of summer.


Pests and diseases

Cycas revoluta plants are generally disease free, but unsuitable growing situations can put plants under stress.

Leaf rot will discolour the leaves and they will eventually drop.

Root rot will cause leaf wilt, then discolouration with leaves dropping and the trunk oozing black liquid until it rots away.

Correct drainage and watering will prevent fungus infections.

Applying systemic fungicides in the early stages of the diseases are effective.

Yellow leaves and frizzle top can be caused by a lack of Manganese and applying a dosage two to three times a year will be effective. Correction of soil ph might be needed and a well-drained soil medium is essential. Plants in full sun in a very hot position will turn yellow.

Weevils on Cycads can be devastating. Their eggs hatch and the larvae will tunnel into the trunk and destroy it completely. From the pupae emerge mature weevils and the cycle is repeated. Badly tunnelled plants should be removed and destroyed.

Koinor can be applied as a preventative soil treatment and will eradicate the eggs and small larvae, but is not effective against the mature insect.

Red spider/mealy bug should be treated with suitable insecticides when the signs are visible.

Scale can be treated with mineral oil. Remove the dead scale gently.