Planting a sago palm

Sago palm tree (Cycas revoluta) is an exotic, indoor plant originated from the Ryukyu Islands and Southern Japan, which doesn’t require too much effort for successful growth. In the US, you can grow this beautiful plant in your garden only if you live in the Southern States because this tropical tree needs high temperatures.

Since you can grow it quite effortlessly, this plant is a perfect choice for novices. In fact, it is not a real palm at all, but a cycad, the ancient tree related to conifer trees, which dates back to the Mesozoic era. If you take care of it properly, the mature plant may reach more than 10 feet (3 m) high.

Sago palm tree

Botanical name

Cycas revoluta
Family

Cycadaceae

Type

Tree, shrub, evergreen, or houseplant

Sun

It needs 5 to 7 hours of direct, full sunlight each day, but can require partial sun during afternoons

Temperatures

The ideal daytime temperatures are from 80 to 90 F (26.5 – 32 C), and 50 to 60 F (10 – 15.5 C) during the night

Soil requirement

Your Sago palm tree requires well-drained, sandy soil

Frost tolerance

It is intolerant to frost

Best companions

Other cycads, banana, ginger, aloe, agave, grass-trees, ferns, bamboo, hibiscus, rhododendron, orchids, bromeliads

Watering

This plant is highly tolerant to drought and prefers low to moderate level of water

Fertilizing

Adding 1 tbsp per 1 sq ft (0.09 m2) of fertilizer in spring will provide enough nutrients to your Sago

Planting

You need 2 inches (5 cm) long, pollinated seeds to grow a new plant in your garden. Put previously soaked seeds in a small pot and wait for them germinate

The soil pH

5.5 – 6.5

Nowadays, we know about more than 300 species of cycads, but botanists are still discovering new ones all over the world. Unfortunately, the destruction of their native habitats is fatal to these living fossils. However, more and more people grow this amazing prehistoric genus in an attempt to save it of extinction.

If you decide to grow this tree in your house or garden, you will enjoy its impressive stature. I adore their thick stems with broad crowns of leaves and large, conical fruits (strobilus) which develop from the palm’s central crown.

Additional values are the facts that this tree is hard, grow for decades, and have small roots which won’t disturb surrounding plants.

Keep in mind that the Sago palm tree is dioecious, which means that you can find both female and male plants. Also, it is gymnosperm, meaning ‘naked, unenclosed seeds.’ It is an interesting phenomenon that seeds stay opened for fertilization after fruiting.

I have a severe warning for you! This plant is gorgeous, and many people beautify their gardens and homes with its present. However, you should always keep in mind that its parts are highly toxic!

Therefore, you should protect your children and pets from neurological disorders which may occur after ingestion of seeds (nuts) and leaves containing the neurotoxins Cycasin.

Reasons against Planting a Sago Palm

  • It is quite challenging to care
  • If you are not a persistent person, Sago palm tree is not for you since it lives for decades
  • It is a tree. Therefore, you should know that it will become bigger over time
  • It requires hard work, including chopping off the pups and cutting off the old foliage every single year
  • It is needle-sharp, poisonous, and potentially dangerous plant
  • There is no way to recycle its debris
  • You can’t get rid of it quickly if you change your mind

Sago palm tree is not a fashion. It is a lifetime commitment. Use it only if you love this fantastic plant and want it in your yard forever.

The Difference between Male and Female Sago

The king Sago

It is a male palm which branches out or makes new crowns as soon as becomes big enough and establishes 2 to 3 feet (61 – 91 cm) thick trunk. You can expect to see that about 15 years after planting your tree. Surprisingly, they are smaller than the female palms and can reach up to 8 feet (2.4 m) in height.

The queen Sago

It is a female palm which will become higher each year. You can expect your palm reaches 15 feet (4.6 m) in height and impressive 12 feet (3.6 m) in width.

They produce toxic seeds, and you should keep your children and pets away from this tree. Also, there is no need to clean the seeds every year. Just let the new crops of leaves, which will appear next year, push them under.

Planting Sago Palm Tree

You should know that pollination is possible just if there are female and male plants nearby. You can expect the appearance of the first flower with seeds after 15 years if you grow your palm outdoors. After that moment, your Sago will bloom once every three years.

To get seeds capable to germinate, the male flower must pollinate female one. You need to use that 2 inches (5 cm) long, pollinated seeds to grow a new plant in your garden.

Always plant previously soaked seeds in a small pot and wait for them germinate. Put the flat side up into the ground, with one-third of the seed above the surface. Water the soil well and cover it with plastic to keep it warm and moisture.

Your seeds will need the temperatures of 70 to 100 F (21 – 38 C) to germinate, but be aware that you may wait three months to see it grow.

Transplant your baby palm in the yard in early spring three years after planting. You can do that just if you live in a warm region, and the root system of your palm is strong enough. If you like those palms, but can’t provide ideal conditions for them, you may consider growing bonsai.

How to Grow Sago Palm Tree

Soil

Sago palm tree prefers growing in well-drained soil. If your garden contains too much clay or sand, you can solve that issue by adding quality fertilizer or compost.

Light

If you grow your Sago plant tree outdoors, it should be planted at the place with the full sun with enough daylight and excellent airflow for healthy and vigorous growth.

However, even though it enjoys growing in full sun exposure and needs at least 5 to 7 hours of direct sunlight a day, it would be better if you place it in a partially shaded spot.

By providing excellent morning sun and partial shade during afternoons, you will save the plant’s foliage of burning at direct sunlight. As a result, it will become bigger, healthier, and more abundant.

Temperatures

Unless you live in the South, you will need to keep your palm indoors throughout winter. Even though it is a hardy plant, it can’t withstand the freezing conditions.

The ideal daytime temperatures for its growth are 80 to 90 F (26.5 – 32 C) during a day and 50 to 60 F (10 – 15.5 C) at night. On the other hand, your Sago can tolerate brief periods of temperatures not lower than 40 F (4.5 C).

Watering

Your Sago plant tree won’t tolerate too moisture ground. It prefers well-drained soil, and overwatering will probably cause root rot. To avoid the death of your plant, let the soil dry between two watering.

In the very beginning, while your palm is still young, you need to water it regularly. After the first year, it will need watering once a week when there is no rainfall. Moisten the top 10 to 12 inches (25 – 30.5 cm) of the soil and let it dry gradually. Don’t water your Sago more than once every two weeks throughout winter.

Fertilizing

Be prepared to provide a balanced, slow-release 10-10-10 fertilizer for your palm once a year. It will be enough adding 1 tbsp of fertilizer per 1 sq ft (0.09 m2) in spring. Take care to sprinkle it at least 8 inches (20 cm) away from the base of your Sago.

If the soil lacks potassium or manganese, you may notice yellow foliage. In that case, a high-quality fertilizer or a chelated iron spray is everything your plant will need.

Trimming and pruning

Basically, you should do this job once a year, but reasons are purely aesthetic. Be prepared that new leaves will sprout over and over again, and you will need to do quite hard work.

Remove severely damaged and dead fronds as well as those affected by fungi. If you cut the green foliage, you will probably weaken your palm and make it more susceptible to diseases.

Some gardeners prefer removing the cone as well. If you are one of them, do it carefully to avoid damaging the growing point under it. If you have a different approach, you can let it stay until breaking apart.

Commercial Harvesting

Since Sago palm plant’s evergreen fronds may keep their bright greenness for long, the florist industry, especially the one from Japan, uses them for commercial harvesting.

Also, you can expect that ‘Sago‘ starch, harvested from the sponge-like center of this plant, is eatable, with a taste similar to tapioca.

Those parts of this beautiful palm are exported to Europe and North America regularly.

Harvesting Pups

Also, there is a possibility to harvest small pups from the trunk base of female plants. Since this palm grows extremely slow and needs approximately half a century to reach full maturity, you can expect that pups of your Sago are quite expensive.

Once your palm reaches 10 to 12 feet (3 – 3.6 m) high, you can start harvesting the pup from its base. Do it in early spring or late winter when Sago is in a dormant phase. Delay harvesting for the next season if your palm has started to produce new leaves.

When the right time comes, put on gardening gloves and snap off the pup or use a knife if you can’t break it off the main plant. Take care not to damage the mother plant.

Then cut existing leaves and roots from the pup, rinse off the soil, and remove debris by using a soft brush. Keep it safe in a cold, dry place for a week until the area of cut dries. You can also let your pup there for a few months and plant it in a pot in spring.

Pests and diseases

Manganese deficiency

Yellow splotches on fronds are usually the sign that the soil lack in manganese. You can quickly solve the problem after applying manganese sulfate to the ground at least two times a year.

Cycad scale

You can think that your palm has caught a fungal disease when you spot white powder in the foliage. However, this is not an infection at all. Your Sago may just have a problem with scale, a small white pest which can quickly devastate your plant.

Once it appears, prune infested fronds immediately and destroy them. Spray the palm with horticultural oil mixed with malathion once a week until getting rid of pests.

Root rot

Phytophthora fungi invade the roots of Sago palm tree and cause root rot. You can notice discoloration and wilt of the fronds, as well as a dark vertical stain on the palm trunk followed by red-black oozing sap.

As a result, your plant will grow slowly or even die. The best way to prevent this disease is to plant your Sago in well-drained soil and water it moderately.

Sooty mold

When you notice the powdery, black substance on the fronds, you will know that your palm suffers from fungi. It usually occurs after aphids produce sticky honeydew and attract fungi.

Treat your Sago with an insecticidal soap spray and wait for aphids to eradicate. Fungi will disappear right after.

Fungal leaf spot

Fungi can cause anthracnose, a disease which is responsible for the occurrence of reddish-brown lesions on leaves. The only thing you can do is to destroy affected foliage and treat the plant with an appropriate fungicide.

If you like growing indoor plants that have an exotic look, why not try growing Sago Palms?. This plant makes a great choice for those new to houseplants since it prefers drying out before you water it again.

A sago palm tree – Cycas revoluta – is easy to grow indoors as long as you keep a few care tips in mind.

Information About Sago Palm Trees

In the US, unless you live in the warmer zones (8b and higher) the sago palm is grown as an indoor plant.

The common name of this plant seems to indicate that it is a palm, but sago is actually a cycad – Cycas revoluta is the botanical name. Cycads date back to the Mesazoic era and used to be found pretty much world wide.

Today, the native homes of sago palms are limited more to tropical and subtropical areas. This makes them ideal house plants but more challenging to grow outdoors unless you live in the temperate zones.

Tips for growing Sago Palm indoor plants

Light requirements

While a sago palm will tolerate lower light conditions, it does best with bright light indoors. An average temperature of 65-75 degrees F. works best since these plants are tropical in nature.

Don’t place your palm tree too close to the glass of the windows and protect it from windows that get a lot of sunlight. Rotating the plant every few weeks help to keep the plant growing straight and not reaching for the light.

Sine the fronds have a drooping growth habit, be sure to place a sago where it won’t be crowded by nearby plants. It makes a great table plant if the light is bright enough.

Watering a sago palm

Be sure not to over water a sago palm. This can encourage the whole root to rot and you’ll end up with a dead plant. This actually makes it great for beginners who often forget to water, since the plant likes to dry out a bit between each watering.

I like to think of the sago palm as needing the same watering requirements as cacti or succulents. I let it dry out a little between watering and mine does just fine.

Crown and Leaves

A sago palm has thick and sharp fern like fronds. They need to have any yellowing or dead fronds trimmed regularly. The plant also has somewhat of a bulbous base which adds to its appeal indoors.

Prune away any stalks close to the trunk of the plant with a set of clean and sharp pruning shears. If you leave the dead fronds, the plant will send its energy there instead of directing it to the new growth that is more healthy.

If you grow sago palm outdoors, be aware the the tips of the fronds are razor sharp and watch for animals and children around the tree. It is a good idea to wear safety gloves and protective eye wear when pruning the tree.

Fertilizing Needs

Sago palms like a soil that drains well and is slightly acidic (5.5-6.5) Apply a slow release cycad fertilizer that is meant for ferns, palms and cycads. Fertilize regularly during the spring and summer and don’t fertilize in the late fall and winter months.

Check the root ball of your sago palm in the spring when new growth starts to see if the plant is root bound. If it is, choose a container about 2 inches larger than your current one and add new soil to the container.

Indoor sago palms will benefit from a summer outside in a filtered sunlight location.

Flowers

Sagos are cycads, not actual palm trees, and are either male or female plants. Male plants have a large cone like structure for a flower and female plants have a rounded and fuzzy mass as its flower head.

If you don’t have a male plant nearby, pollination of the plant will not happen. In order to get the large walnut sized orange seeds, the female flower must be pollinated by the male.

photo credit female flower: Wikimedia Commons

I was lucky enough to see a Sago palm that had been pollinated in Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles recently. The sago palm seeds were huge (almost 2 inches long!)

Flowering takes place in late spring. It’s unlikely to see a sago palm flowering indoors. It can take up to 15 years for a flower to develop, and even then it will only bloom about once every 3 years.

Normally, only plants grown outside will produce flowers.

Toxicity and other sago palm problems

All parts of the sago palm tree is toxic to human and pets if they are eaten. If you have cats and dogs or small children, care should be taken to keep the plants away from their reach. The seeds are especially toxic.

Sago palms are prone to scale infestations. Be sure to treat this aggressively if noted. Signs of scale problems are yellowing of the new growth. (older growth naturally yellows.) Yellowing growth can also indicate over watering.

How to Grow a Sago Palm Tree Outdoors

If your idea tends more to growing sago palms outdoors, then there are a few care tips to be aware of. Consider it a tree, not an outdoor plant or shrub, since it will get larger and larger as the years progress.

Cold Hardiness Zones

Outdoors, growing sago palms works if you live in zones 9 to 11. It can tolerate fairly low temperatures as long as there are no prolonged freezes.

Spacing of Sago Palms

Sago palm height outdoors can grow to 10 feet, so think carefully about the eventual size when you plant them. It takes about 8 years for the plant to reach a mature size and even longer to become fully mature.

Don’t plant the tree too close to the house so that the large fronds have room to spread out and grow to their limit.

Sunlight needs for Sagos outdoors

Choose a spot for your sago palm tree that gets good morning sun but filtered afternoon sun since the fronds are likely to burn if they get too much intense sunlight.

Be sure the soil drains well

Choose well draining soil and add organic matter or compost regularly to the soil. Water well when the plant first starts growing outdoors, but once established sago palms only require limited watering during the driest spells.

Fertilizing Sagos outdoors

A slow release fertilizer once a year, in the spring, is all that is needed to keep your sago palm tree growing well if you use commercial fertilizers.

Adding compost or other organic matter is also a great idea for sago palms grow outside if you like to use more natural methods of fertilizing.

Sago Palm Trimming

Pruning yellowing leaves is very important outdoors. If you are a person who likes to plant and forget, a sago palm might not be a good choice, since it can end up a tangled mess easily if not pruned regularly.

This means that the pups which grow at the base of the plant should be removed as well as the dead and dying fronds.

Sago palms will produce male and female flowers outdoors which can result in the plant propagating and producing seeds. These grow from the center of the plant.

The most common method of propagation is to remove and plant the side pups that the plant will produce.

A light layer of mulch before winter approaches will help to ensure that the plant over winters well.

Questions about growing Sago Palms

Are Sago Palms slow growing?

Sago palms grow very slowly. Indoors, a two year old plant will just fit into a 5 inch pot. Since the roots are pot bound, this will keep the growth rate very slow.

Outdoors, it can take 50 years or so for a mature plant to reach a 10 to 12 feet tall height. If a quick growing palm is your aim, you should look for another species.

What is the best soil for sago palms?

Sagos like rich, well draining soil. Clay and sandy soils will not produce a good specimen, so adding lots of compost at the foot of the tree once or twice a year will help to enrich it and also to help it drain well.

Indoors, the ideal soil mixture for sago palms is regular potting soil that has been mixer with sand, peat moss or pumice to make it gritty.

Is the Sago Palm poisonous?

Many indoor and outdoor plants are poisonous, and Sago palm is no exception. All parts of a sago palm, especially the seeds, are extremely poisonous if they are eaten by humans or animals.

The toxin in parts of the plant can irritate the gastrointestinal system, and if a large amount is eaten, it can cause liver failure.

Even though sago palms are a favorite food of islanders in Indonesia, consider it very toxic to us. Dogs and other pets can get very sick if they chew on the bark and other parts of the plants and should definitely be kept away from any seeds which might form.

Where can Sago Palms be grown outdoors?

To grow a sago palm outside, you need to live in zones 9 or 10. Sago palms can withstand a very brief period of colder temperatures (below 20 to 25 degrees, but they will not survive long periods at these temperatures.

You will find Sagos growing in the warmest areas of the USA (Southern Florida and California and other areas along the Southern border of the US.

Sago Palm Yellow Leaves, is this a problem?

Most sago palms will develop yellow leaves at some point. This is a normal reaction of the tree as the plant uses nutrients. Older leaves will turn yellow and then brown and this is not a reason to worry.

On the other hand, if your sago palm tree has new fronds that are turning yellow, this could be a signal that there is a nutrient deficiency and fertilizing might help.

How much do Sago Palms cost?

Sago palm prices depend on the size of the plant. Purchasing a small indoor sago palm is easily affordable. I bought mine for about $15 at Lowe’s and it was a decent size.

However, if you wish to purchase a large outdoor specimen, you will likely pay a lot for it (many hundreds of dollars). The plants are very slow growing and the grower has to recoup their expenses caring for it as it matures.

To be reminded of this post, pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Whether you decide to try growing sago palms indoors or outside, remember to provide steady temperatures, light watering and protection from the hottest sunlight. If you follow these tips, you can look forward to an exotic looking plant that will give you years of pleasure.

Admin note: This article was first published in November of 2017. I have updated the post to include additional photos and more information about growing sago palms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Q: How large does the root system of a sago palm get?

Q: I want to plant a couple of sago palms near my septic system but I am concerned about the roots growing into the system. How large does the root system get?

A: My first thought was to consider the environmental issue so I contacted the environmental health department in Nassau County regarding any regulation addressing the distance trees or shrubs should be planted from septic tanks. The environmental health department stated there is no regulation regarding the distance of shrubs and trees from septic tanks but roots are the main reason for septic tank damage and failure.

Sagos and other palms do not have woody roots like most of our woody ornamentals but they are massive and will continue to grow in length as long as the palm is alive. It might be best if you avoid planting shrubs and trees near the septic tank area.

However, if you want something decorative near the area you might consider planting turfgrass and we have plenty of options as long as the area is in full sun. You might also consider a small ornamental grass like muhly grass ( Muhlenbergia capillaris) since the roots are generally only 6-8 inches in length and should not interfere with the operation of the septic tank. Muhly grass is particularly attractive when it produces masses of thin plumes in colors ranging from whites to pinks to reds and purples in the late summer early fall. Various natural varieties are found in pine flatwoods, sandhills, moist hammocks, and beach dunes. I have even seen it appear locally along the roadsides and it can be grown throughout the entire state. Muhly grass grows well in a large variety of soil types, it is highly drought and salt tolerant, and can handle full sun to partial shade. It sounds like the perfect plant, right?

by kathywarner

Posted: July 5, 2017

Category: Home Landscapes

Tags: Muhly grass, sago palms, septic system

Sago Palm Outdoor Care: Can Sagos Grow In The Garden

Sago palms are native to southern Japan. Oddly, these plants aren’t even palms but are cycads, a group of plants that predates the dinosaurs. Can Sagos grow in the garden? Growing Sago palms outdoors is only suitable in United States Department of Agriculture zones 9 to 11. That means they cannot survive sustained freezing temperatures and are more suited to tropical and sub-tropical regions. However, there are ways to raise a Sago outside even for northern gardeners.

Can Sagos Grow in the Garden?

If you are looking for a touch of the exotic, with tropical flair and ancient sophistication, you can’t go wrong with a Sago palm. Outdoor Sago palm plants are easy to grow and have a slow growth rate that makes them perfect container plants. You can also grow the cycad as an indoor houseplant in cooler climates. In summer you can bring your Sago outside until cold temperatures arrive.

As a cycad, Sagos are more closely related to conifers than palms. However, their feathery, large fronds and rough

trunk bring to mind a tropical palm tree, so hence the name. Sago palms are not terribly hardy and can be damaged at 30 Fahrenheit (-1 C.). When growing Sago palms outdoors, it is important to keep this fact in mind. Sago palm outdoor care isn’t particularly challenging but it is important to watch your weather report and be ready to act if you live in a zone that is under the Sago’s hardiness.

Those of us who live in cooler climes can still care for a Sago palm outside but will need to have the plant mobile. The plants are slow growing but can eventually reach 20 feet but may take up to 100 years to achieve this height. Due to the slow growth rate, they make ideal container plants and keeping them potted allows you to move them to more favorable conditions, indoors or out. Outdoor Sago palm plants benefit from the circulation afforded by the wind and the lighting. They are also potential prey to disease and pests which are less likely to happen when they are grown in the home.

Care for Sago Palm Outside

Sago palm outdoor care isn’t a lot different from indoor cultivation. The plant needs to be watered regularly while it establishes but is quite drought tolerant in the ground once its root system matures. If the plant is in ground, make sure the soil is freely draining. Boggy soil is one thing a Sago palm can’t forgive.

Fertilize the plant once per month starting in spring when it starts actively growing.

Watch for pests like mealybugs and scale, and combat them with horticultural soap.

Keep an eye on the weather and cover the root zone of the plant with organic mulch to protect the roots. If you are growing the plant in a cool or temperate zone, keep it potted so you can easily rescue the plant from a cold snap.

How to Plant Sago Palms

Sago palms, known botanically as cycas revoluta, are a bit misleading in their name. They are not actually palms at all, but cycads, an extremely ancient type of tropical gymnosperm plant. Sago palms are prized for their stiff and spiny-palm like fronds that are a glossy green and grow in a dramatic fountain form. Sago palms are very slow growing, long-lived and hardy down to USDA Zone 8b. They can easily be grown in the garden soil as specimen trees as well as in large patio containers or as indoor plants.

Select a planting site where the sago palm will ideally receive daily sun exposure with the reprieve of some afternoon shade. Sago palms will grow in full sun, but can easily dry out and experience leaf burn. They can also adapt to grow in full shade conditions, but may grow more slowly. An in ground planting location should be chosen with care as sago palms do not like to be moved once established. Choose a planting sit that allows for good drainage and will not collect sitting water. Higher-ground planting is much preferred over lower-grade planting to lessen the chances of root rot.

Prepare a well-tilled planting bed of nutrient-rich and lightly alkaline soil. Till up the planting soil to the depth of the sago palm’s existing plant container. Amend the soil with up to 50 percent of its volume with a balanced mix of peat moss for alkalinity, compost and well-aged manure to boost the soil quality. Excavate a hole in the soil that is twice the diameter of the sago palm container and at least 6 inches deeper. Fill in the bottom 6 inches of the hole with the amended soil. When planting sago palms in containers choose a pot at least two to three times the diameter of the root ball to prevent the need to transplant several years.

Place the sago palm into the prepared planting hole being careful not to knock the roots. Add amended soil under the root ball to make the top of the root ball level with or just proud of the surrounding soil. Turn the palm until its most pleasing aspect is facing the direction from which it will most often be viewed.

Backfill the amended soil around the root ball to stabilize the palm. Tamp down with the heel of your shoe to compact the soil lightly. Water in the palm deeply and add more amended soil if needed to fill in any collapsed air pockets. Maintain evenly moist, but not wet, soil around the roots at all times.

Q: I’m thinking of planting eight or ten Sago Palms around the outside of my in-ground pool fence. Is this a good palm tree for the Clayton County area? I’m looking for a palm that does not grow too high and that requires little maintenance.

A: Just to start out on the right foot, the sago palms you are contemplating are not palms at all. Though the leaves are palm-like, they are scientifically classed as Cycads and are more kin to pines and ginkgo trees than to palms. Sago palm can be severely damaged by temperatures lower than fifteen degrees in the winter. They also grow so slowly that few are seen in the northern half of Georgia. That said, if your pool site is sheltered from the wind and you have a hankering for a tropical atmosphere, the Sago palm is worth a try. Before you plant, read this information about their care. If you’re worried about spending so much money on these plants, why not try a hardy palm such as windmill palm, needle palm or dwarf palmetto?

You can find lots of good information on palms at The Southeastern Palm Society..

Growing Palms

sago palm female

Tags For This Article: georgia, sago palm

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