What is a Cycad?

Cycads are a unique assemblage of plants unrelated to any other group of living plants.  Although they have the appearance of palms and ferns, they are not related to either.  Within the living seed plants they are nearly unique in that they produce motile sperm cells, and thus are an important link to the earliest of the ancient plants.  Cycads are known to have lived in the Permian era, over 200 million years ago, even before the dinosaurs roamed the earth.  They flourished and reached their peak in the Jurassic Period between 193 million and 136 million years ago.  The living cycads include about 250 species, with 11 genera in 3 families.  The 3 living families can be traced back 50-60 million years ago.  Cycads are the most ancient of plants surviving today.

Living cycads are found in the tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres.  One reason cycads have survived till now is their adaptablility.  They have been found growing in extreme conditions, such as in sand or rock, in climates with hard freezes and snow, and in areas that have no more than a couple of inches of rain per year.

Because of their primitive appearance and general slow growth, cycads have become extremely desirable plants to collect.  The most common cycads are the Sago Palm Cycas revoluta (pictured on the home page), and the Cardboard Palm Zamia maritima.  Cycads make the perfect, easy to maintain plants for landscapes and for indoor foliage.  These plants can set your landscape apart from everybody else's on the block while you enjoy a plant that has been around for millions of years.

Information on this page comes from three sources:
1.  The Cycad Pages, by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia.
2.  The Virtual Cycad Encyclopedia, by the Palm and Cycad Societies of Florida.
3.  Jones, David L.  Cycads of the World, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

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