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What is a Cycad, and Why Does Growing a Cycad Matter? by Maurice Levin, Jurassic Garden


What are Cycads, and Why Grow a Cycad?

By Maurice Levin, Jurassic Garden


What is a Cycad?

Cycads look like ferns and palms, but they’re not really related to either of these plants. Cycads are more closely related to pine trees, and other cone-bearing plants. As mature plants, cycads bear cones , and are architectural plants that can look like living sculptures.

A Healthy Cycad in California

Cycads have been called living fossils because they’ve survived over 200 million years, since long before there were flowering plants. Scientists believe cycads may have been a primary food source for herbivorous dinosaurs during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Fewer than 300 described species of cycads currently exist, found mostly in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.


So, Why Grow a Cycad? Good question…


1. When you grow a cycad, you’re preserving an endangered species. Really? Yes! Every cycad you grow makes you an increasing member of a worldwide endangered species movement, by continuing the life of a plant whose existence in the wild may be threatened. And, if you learn to propagate the seeds from your cycad, you increase its species’ worldwide population.


2. Cycads are drought-resistant and environmentally friendly. The cycad you grow needs little water or other resources to thrive in a garden or in a pot. Instead of a water –intensive patch of grass, or a care-intensive rose, your cycad is virtually care-free, and doesn’t need lots of water, even when it’s hot.


3. Cycads grow into remarkable living sculptures. These striking architectural plants add a distinctive touch to a garden. Their uniquely geometrical patterns and extraordinary physical presence will make visitors to a garden say, “What’s that incredible-looking plant?”


Cycads Encephalartos eugene maraisii and Encephalartos transvenosus

Cycads have become more popular as landscape plants, because landscapers and gardening enthusiasts appreciate cycads’ primitive and exotic beauty, their rarity and their potential value. Some rare cycad species and large cycad specimens can involve a serious investment. Collectors and cycad enthusiasts have been known to go to extreme lengths to obtain these special plants.

Cycads are endangered species, protected and regulated under international law. To support cycad preservation, nurseries that specialize in cycads propagate and grow thousands of cycads from seed. Hopefully, by if nurseries continue to grow cycads, and people continue to nurture them in their gardens, cycads can be re-populated throughout the world and these historically significant plants will live on for future generations.


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