One look at the Sago Palms and instantly I am transported to a tropical paradise, by the warmth of the beach, drinking from a coconut tree, imagining the gentle sway of other palm trees.
But wait, is the sago palm even a palm tree? Don’t be fooled by the long green fronds and feathery fern-like leaves, these plants are actually cycads!
What are those, you wonder? The sago palm plant may look modern and futuristic, but the cycad genus in the Cycadaceae family date back to prehistoric times!
Yes, you read that right. These plants with their dark green, lush and sturdy foliage date back to the early Mesozoic Era! Can you picture it happily growing and living its best life alongside dinosaurs?
What’s more amazing is that the sago palm hasn’t changed much. So if you decide to bring into your home a sago palm plant to grow and keep, you are in fact growing a “living fossil!”
History & Facts of the Sago Palm
Cycads like the Sago Palm (Cycas Revoluta) are a group of seed plants, you take a look at the swollen stem that looks like a scaled bulb, and that’s the sago palm.
Sago Palms also go by King Sago, Palm cycad, or Japanese Funeral Palm. The sago plant hails from the southernmost islands of Japan where the weather is warm and there is bright sun. It got the Funeral Palm monicker because the fronds of the sago palm are often used in Japanese funeral arrangements. They can also be found in China.
One species, the queen sago or Cycas circinalis is native to India and is commonly grown in different parts of Asia and Hawaii.
Another species is the notorious Cycas Micronesia, a sago palm that gained notoriety because researchers found it to be a possible cause of the Lytico-Bodig disease (symptoms are similar to ALS).
This species of sago palm is found on the island of Micronesia, Guam, and Palau. Back when it was thought to be edible and safe, the seeds of this sago palm were eaten and consumed by the locals.
Now we’re going to cover more about the sago palm’s toxicity below, but do take note of this – the cycads have a dangerous neurotoxin that is toxic and poisonous to humans and animals!
The sago palm is ornamental only and no part of it is edible. Cycads contain a dangerous toxin called cycasin that is poisonous and is noted to cause liver failure in animals and humans. Remember this!
So grow and keep it as a beautiful addition to your home. If you live in a cooler climate, it is best to grow your sago palm indoors, where the warmth and heat of your home are their ideal environment.
Sago palms grow slower when they are grown in pots, this makes them a great choice for bonsai planting.
If you have the opportunity to grow your sago palm in the garden, plant them in the early spring or late in fall. They often only release one new frond each year (that slow!)
When grown outdoors, the sago palm cycas revoluta can grow large and may reach 10 to 12 feet in height. You’ll have to wait for 50 years to see that height but it can happen!
For those who are located in USDA Hardiness Zone 8a, your sago palms can grow outdoors in pots, but you’ll have to bring them inside in safety during the harsh winter. Zones 9-11, good news for you, you can enjoy the sago palm in your garden landscape all year round.
One more fun fact before we dive into sago palm plant care – did you know that these plants are assigned gender?
Each sago palm is either male or female. During the later parts of spring, the male plants produce a cone that can vary from 12 t0 24-inches in size. The female sago palm produces a leaf structure that looks like a basket, this produces ovules.
When the basket of the female sago palm is ready, it opens up to be fertilized by the pollen from the male sago palms. That’s a fun tidbit for you!
Caring For King Sago Palms
Growing sago palm as an indoor plant is not difficult, and maintenance is minimal at best. The key is to establish a home environment that suits its specific growing needs.
Take into consideration the light requirements of the sago palm, how much sunlight should they be getting? Do you need to mist or use a humidifier on this houseplant?
What about the watering needs of the sago palm? Should the soil be consistently moist or should we let the surface dry out before the next round of thorough watering? Does it want well-drained soil? Speaking of soil, what quality of soil does the cycas revoluta need to survive? Is this a drought-tolerant houseplant?
That’s right! These are the questions we will answer in our article today. Once you’ve figured out how to best care for your growing sago palms, it’s smooth sailing from here!
While sago palms are tropical plants, they prefer to be away from direct, bright light from the sun. The hot rays of summer are dangerous for the fronds of the sago palm, causing it to wilt and burn.
This beautiful cycas revoluta prefers to be under indirect, bright light. Too much shade on the plant can also affect the growth of the sago palm, leading to root rot, thinner foliage, or an unhealthy plant.
The most ideal spot for the sago palm is by a windowsill, an east, west, or south-facing window. If you’d rather grow the sago palm outside, make sure there is a shade that protects it from direct sun.
Sago palms do not need special soil to thrive, but that doesn’t mean you can just let them sit in poorly drained soil. Good drainage will keep your sago palm plants happy and thriving, this can be achieved with sandy soil mixed in rich organic matter. Test your soil pH and ensure that the soil is slightly acidic to neutral.
The cycas revoluta has low water needs and is slightly drought tolerant. Water only when the soil feels dry to the touch but avoid overwatering so you don’t end up with soggy soil. During the winter, when the sago palm plant is not actively growing, care to reduce your level of watering.
Temperature and Humidity
Frost and cold temperatures can easily damage the foliage and fronds of the cycas revoluta sago palm. When your temperature drops below 20 degrees, there’s a high chance of plant death.
If you are growing them outside and you are in an area that’s prone to freezing winters, remember to plant your sago palm in containers that you can easily transfer during the winter season.
If you are growing your sago palm indoors, avoid placing it in spots prone to drafts and airflow. Whether it be from the cold air-conditioning or heating, these sudden temperature changes will hurt your sago palm. Keep your air humid and warm to help the plant thrive.
During the growing season of spring to fall, you should fertilize your cycas revoluta at least once a month. Liquid fertilizer is best during this feeding season, if you opt for a slow-release fertilizer, you may have to feed more. Check package instructions.
Propagating Sago Palms
The sago palm can be propagated by seed, however, this is a slow-growing plant that will require herculean patience. For this article, we will discuss probation via division.
If you notice clusters of the sago palm forming below the trunk of the plant, these are called pups that can be cut off and then planted into another pot.
This process needs to be done as quickly, once you notice this growth, immediately cut it off the sago palm parent plant. Once they’re more than a foot tall, it’ll be hard to propagate this way.
If the pup is the right size, you can easily wiggle this part of the sago palm until pops right off, if not, you may use a clean gardening knife to cut it. Clean and cut off any leaves growing off the pup. Allow for time to heal the wound of the new growth, and after a week you may pot the new sago palm. Water and provide shade.
It will take a long while before the new plant will root, typically, it’ll be several months before that will happen.
Potting and Repotting
And since they are truly slow growers, you won’t have problems frequently repotting this houseplant. Some gardeners note that it will take every three years only. Low-maintenance indeed!
But to encourage continued and healthy growth of your houseplant, replace your loose soil with fresh soil every spring. The best potting mix for the sago palm is soil that is amended with sand and peat moss.
Toxicity and Other Sago Palm Issues
For most of your plant parenting, you will rarely encounter problems or diseases in your sago palm plants. However, if at all, it often involves the yellowing of the dark green leaves. Sago palm yellowing can be attributed to the cycads family’s tendency to conserve nutrients. Older green leaves often turn yellow and then they turn brown.
If the sago palm yellowing happens while there is new growth, it could be a sign that there is a deficiency in nutrients or pest infestation like scale bugs.
Identify the cause of the problem and then treat your sick plant accordingly. Feed your houseplant some fertilizer if they lack nourishment. Use a natural insecticide to fight off infestation on the plant.
Note: Animal Poison Control Center
Many houseplants have a certain level of toxicity in them, some taste and smell too unpleasant for any inquisitive pets and children. Some houseplants aren’t toxic enough to cause major damage.
The sago palm, however, is different. Ingesting the plant can cause vomiting and potentially lead to liver damage. It is poisonous. If you think your pet dogs or pet cats may have ingested ANY part of the sago palm, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435.
Sago Palm Species You Should Know
Queen Sago Palm
Cycas rumphii is a treelike cycas in comparison to the king sago palm. It can grow 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. The trunk is bigger at 18 inches in diameter. The queen palm sago is less hardy than the king sago palm.
This is a true palm or a true sago palm. It belongs to the palm tree botanical family.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is sago palm bad for dogs?
Yes, sago palm should not be consumed by your pet dogs or any other pets for that matter. It can lead to serious organ damage or death if consumed.
How to care for a sago palm?
It is quite easy to care for this prehistoric plant. Provide moderate light. Water occasionally, once a week in the summer and less frequently in winter. Provide the ideal temperature indoors. Fertilize at least once or twice a year.
Are sago palms harmful to humans?
Cycad sago palm is extremely poisonous to both humans and animals. The seed is the most toxic part of the plant and should be out of reach of children. The seeds contain cycasin which is a toxin that when ingested leads to gastrointestinal irritation and liver failure.
Will a sago palm kill a dog?
On record, only about 50% of dogs survive sago palm poisoning. Eating even a small amount, or ingesting the nuts will have serious effects on your pets. If you suspect poisoning, call your veterinarian immediately.
Do sago palms need sun or shade?
Sago palms can grow in full sun, but they are better set to grow in medium light or partially shaded areas. Too much bright sun can burn the foliage of the plant. Its need for shade makes the sago palm a good plant to grow indoors.