Common in Jurassic period, cycads are living fossils

By Kelly Stewart

Although it’s not a palm tree at all, the sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is a beautiful primitive plant that grows well here in La Jolla, requiring little water to thrive. A member of one of the oldest plant families on the planet, sago palms are in a group known as cycads. More closely related to conifers than they are to palms or ferns, which they superficially resemble, cycads were very common during the Jurassic period more than 200 million years ago.

A sago palm that is female. The flower has opened and is ready for pollination. Seeds will develop within the flower during the summer months, and will be ready for planting in January. Photos by Kelly Stewart

A large sago palm growing in La Jolla. Cones are not produced every year and each plant may take up to 15 years to fully mature.

Cycads were likely the main food source for herbivorous dinosaurs during this time. Today cycads are much more rare and in fact, many species are endangered in the wild. Several cycads are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates or prohibits import or export of these plants.

Many sago palms are now propagated from seeds domestically. Each plant is either a male or a female, but you cannot tell them apart when they are small. Cycads take a long time to mature — up to 15 years — and only when the plants have produced a cone is the difference apparent.

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Posted by Staff on Jun 14, 2012. Filed under Natural La Jolla. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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