Landscaping with sago palms

Japanese Sago Palm

A very symmetrical plant with leathery leaves that resemble feathers; trunk is very low to subterrannean in young plants, but lengthens with age; very slow growing, and may eventually branch; a beautiful accent or container plant.

Add to Wishlist Add to Wishlist SKU: 9f93111a8ea9 Category: Shrubs

Please contact your local store for product availability. Find a garden center.

Characteristics

Species: revoluta

Other Species Names: King Sago, Cycad, syn. Cycas miquelii

Plant Height: 72 in.

Spread: 60 in.

Evergreen: Yes

Plant Form: arching

Emergent Foliage Color: chartreuse

Summer Foliage Color: green

Minimum Sunlight: partial shade

Maximum Sunlight: full sun

Ornamental Features

Japanese Sago Palm features showy spikes of tan flowers rising above the foliage in mid fall. It has attractive green foliage which emerges chartreuse in spring. The large narrow pinnately compound leaves are highly ornamental and remain green throughout the winter. The fruit is not ornamentally significant. The rough dark brown bark adds an interesting dimension to the landscape.

Landscape Attributes

Japanese Sago Palm features showy spikes of tan flowers rising above the foliage in mid fall. It has attractive green foliage which emerges chartreuse in spring. The large narrow pinnately compound leaves are highly ornamental and remain green throughout the winter. The fruit is not ornamentally significant. The rough dark brown bark adds an interesting dimension to the landscape.

Planting & Growing

Japanese Sago Palm will grow to be about 6 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 5 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 2 feet from the ground, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live to a ripe old age of 100 years or more; think of this as a heritage shrub for future generations! This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in sandy soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This species is not originally from North America, and parts of it are known to be toxic to humans and animals, so care should be exercised in planting it around children and pets. Japanese Sago Palm makes a fine choice for the outdoor landscape, but it is also well-suited for use in outdoor pots and containers. Because of its height, it is often used as a ‘thriller’ in the ‘spiller-thriller-filler’ container combination; plant it near the center of the pot, surrounded by smaller plants and those that spill over the edges. Note that when grown in a container, it may not perform exactly as indicated on the tag – this is to be expected. Also note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.

Cycas revoluta

For an impressive dose of prehistoric drama, consider sago palm.

The Cycad genus in the Cycadaceae family includes over 100 species, with the most common being Cycas revoluta or the king sago, the main focus of this article.

Like ferns, these giant beauties have been around since before the dinosaurs, and their stunning display is truly evocative of an age long gone. In fact, they’re sometimes referred to as “living fossils,” dating back to the early Mesozoic Era without much change since then.

Dark green and lush with sturdy foliage, if you live in a warm climate zone or you’re looking for a new addition to your indoor garden, this plant is for you.

Here’s what’s to come in this article:

Let’s learn more!

Cultivation and History

While “palm” is part of their common name, sago palms are not really palms at all. They’re cycads, a group of seed plants with ancient roots related to cone-bearing conifers.

Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Other names for this type of sago palm include king sago, palm cycad, or Japanese funeral palm. Native to the southernmost island of Japan, the leaves were traditionally used in funeral arrangements in the Land of the Rising Sun.

This sago palm is about 15 years old. Photo © Ralph Barrera.

C. circinalis, or queen sago, is another common species that is native to India. It’s commonly grown in parts of Asia and Hawaii.

This is not to be confused with C. micronesica, another species that is found in Micronesia, Palau, and Guam. This species gained notoriety when it was found to be linked to Lytico-Bodig disease, which is similar to ALS. The seeds of C. micronesica were a traditional food source on Guam until the 1960s, but they contain a potentially dangerous neurotoxin and should not be consumed.

I repeat – do no eat any part of your cycads. They are ornamentals only!

Sago grows slowly when confined to a pot, and it is also a favorite choice for bonsai.

Gardeners located within or north of USDA Hardiness Zone 8a must grow these ancient wonders in pots and bring them indoors to overwinter, but those of us in zones 8a to 11b get to enjoy them in our landscapes year-round.

Male sago palm. Photo by Gretchen Heber.

When grown outdoors, C. revoluta may reach a height of 10 to 12 feet, though the ones I see in Austin are closer to about 5 feet tall. Here they are also typically allowed to fall into a spreading, half-round form, rather than the more upright, palm tree-like form that results when the lower fronds are trimmed off.

The pinnate leaves are typically about 4 to 5 feet long at maturity, reaching their greatest length when grown in partial shade. Shiny, new leaves sprout from the top of the crown in a circular pattern, located above a woody trunk.

As mentioned above, sago palms are poisonous to humans and pets, something to keep in mind if you have a dog who likes to experiment with new cuisines. Our dogs have never bothered our sagos, and the spiky leaf tips act as a deterrent as well.

Female sago.

Each sago palm is either male or female. In late spring, males may produce a 12- to 24-inch-tall cone, whereas females produce a leaf structure resembling a basket that produces ovules. The “basket” opens when the plant is ready to be fertilized by pollen from the male, carried by wind or insects.

Keep in mind that sago palms may take over a decade to reach maturity and bloom for the first time. This will only happen under ideal growing conditions, every three years or so.

Propagation

Division

C. revoluta can be propagated via division, as well as growing by seed. For the first method, you may notice new clusters forming near the base of the plant. These pups can be cut off and planted elsewhere, or shared with fellow gardeners.

370shares

  • Facebook6
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest364

Photos © Ralph Barrera reprinted with permission. Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product images via Serendipityseed, American Plant Exchange, and 9Greenbox. Uncredited photos: . Originally published on December 2, 2017. Last updated on June 29, 2019. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *