Friday, June 26, 2009

Question for the Hive Mind: Lies

I bought a sago palm (Cycas revoluta, I'm assuming) last Sunday, from Lowe's, and this care tag was attached to it:



Now, I've never had a sago palm before, but I'm skeptical about some of this, just based on my experiences with one at work (big huge thing, very pricey, bad-tempered, was there almost as long as I was and then sold last winter or spring). So, how many of these are lies?

1) Wants minimal attention
2) Grows virtually anywhere with minimal care
3) Low light and high light
4) Never below 40F
5) Keep soil moist but do not let the plant stand in water or let the soil dry out
6) Fertilize every two months

I'm most skeptical of 2/3/5: when the light was low at work, the new fronds (leaves?) would come in long, weak, and pale, so I don't believe for a second that this is a low-light plant. No idea on temperature. I know if we gave the big plant at work water when it didn't want water, it would drop leaves, so keeping the soil constantly moist doesn't seem quite right to me either. But greenhouse care is different from home care, so I don't know. I'm sure some members of the audience have had these before, so -- what's wrong with these instructions? And what are the right instructions?


our friend Ben said...

Okay, it's a bit early for my brain to engage, but I thought I remembered the Mesozoic period being called "the age of cycads and dinosaurs," so I went to see what I could find about conditions at the time. Cycads apparently reached their peak during the Triassic era, when they comprised 20% of the world's flora. Reconstructions of scenes from the era show the cycads growing out in the sunny, swampy areas and under the tree ferns and conifers in the (somewhat) drier forests. Since these were paleontological reconstructions, I'm assuming they're relatively accurate, based on the fossil record as opposed to a cartoonist's imagination. So maybe the information isn't that far off? The big caveat, always, is that just because a plant grows somewhere doesn't mean it looks good! Our aesthetic standards are a bit more demanding than nature's. Sounds like you've got a sound cultural start with your greenhouse experience, anyway. Please keep us posted! I love cycads!

Anonymous said...

I do love cycads, consequently I've killed several in the attempt to have one join the family. I'd ignore the suggestion that they're happy anywhere and with any treatment. They don't like to be cold! As in household temps in Maine (no central heat). And if they're cold they don't like to be wet. They languish and either die outright or wear me down and wind up in the compost.

I suggest that you keep yours as warm as a nice summer day in Florida (before global warming) and that you provide plenty of humidity but never ever leave them soggy. Where you can control the environment for them I think they will live and even g r o w. Good luck. As for me, I'll continue to try - as I do with dizygotheca - simply because I'm besotted. I'll be curious so give us an update sometime.

Paul Anater said...

They grow like weeds all around the Gulf Coast and points south and when they are planted in a yard in a semi-tropical to tropical climate they require nothing beyond the occasional blast with palm fertilizer and mealy bug killer.

I agree with Anonymous, try to recreate the climate of the Gulf Coast. Bright sun (I have never seen one grown in the shade), excellent drainage, high humidity and in the winter when the temperature drops let them go dormant and stop watering them.

They are exceptionally long-lived and can get quite large. When they reproduce, they have reproductive structures that look downright alien.

Good luck!

Lzyjo said...

high light AND low light. I think that's an oxymoron. I have a sago it looks like crap. It doesn't get enough light in our bedroom with southern and western windows. As you mentioned the elongated fronds, don't look very attractive. The only problem I had was scale, which it came with! It stopped with coffee grounds.

I've read never to throw away a sago because it will resprout from the base.

One of the most interesting things is the symbiotic cyanobacteria in their roots. If you break a root in half you'll see a blue-green ring, like a tree ring, of algae which was used to fix nitrogen from the primordial air. Our landlords have huge ones in their sunroom their are in giant urns on raised up stands, really impressive and much better looking than mine, I would say give it the brightest light you can and equal NPK fert.

sheila said...

I've only had a bit of experience with sagos. The light advice I would disagree with - I think it's like ZZ plants - yeah, you can keep them alive in low light if you keep them quite dry, but they will be thin and floppy and unattractive, so what's the point?

Julia said...

Okay, I've got two C. revoluta, and I keep them both outside. They coped with -5C easily, with minimal yellow bits, so I have no clue why the label would say 40F.

You should water them fairly regularly in the spring and summer and feed with high-N fertiliser to get a good flush. But they need well-drained compost, like you would have for a succulent or cactus.

And yeah, full sun for them, or as bright a position indoors as you can get them.

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ said...

I live in the Phoenix Area and grow my sago outside all year near my front door. It is in the shade all the time and I keep it moist in the spring and summer when it puts out a new set of leaves (its doing that now) and in the fall and winter I go light on the water. It depends on your growing conditions how you deal with it.
I think the thing to remember with those tags is they are trying to SELL the plant. Costa Farms is a big Florida grower of tropical plants (especially orchids--those Costa tags also make them sound easy). It's not that they are dishonest, but they do write care instructions in such a way that the average person will say :"I can do that," buy the plant, and take it home!