Our oldest, 21 year-old Cycas taitungensis finally decided to flower this year, but it waited until three months after all the other cycads had finished coning. Plants in the genus Cycas are dioecious, with male and female cones on separate plants. Our specimen turned out to be a female, and by the time we finally located pollen on the west coast and had it flown in, it was too late to have meaningful sex this year. At least we finally know what sex we have. Let’s hope it gets back on a more normal schedule in the future.
Our three way hybrid cycad, C. x menageatroisensis (Cycas panzhihuaensis x (revoluta x taitungensis) appears to be in full “flower” this week, months after we tried, but failed to impregnate it. Despite being unproductive reproductively, it’s quite fascinating as a garden feature. Cycads came about back in the day before flowering was invented, so they actually produce cones, like a pine tree. Despite the leaves frying at 11F, the female strobilis remains undamaged. Our clone picture below is a female.
With our recent 16 degree F winter temperatures, all of the cycas plants (sago palms) in the garden now have fried foliage. This foliage will not recover, but damage like this is fully expected in our climate, and not something that will damage the plants. Be sure to not remove the old damaged foliage this early, however, since cycads are programmed to shoot out new foliage 10-14 days after the old foliage is removed, and this is much too early for new foliage, with more cold weather likely on the way.
We like to remove the old foliage starting in mid-April, when it should be safe. As you can see in the second photo, the central crown is still in great shape, undamaged by the cold temperatures. We think the central crown is one of the most fascinating parts of a cycad, which shows its’ ancient lineage.
We are just loving our hardy hybrid cycads in the garden this time of year, and here are two we photographed this week. The first is Cycas x bifungensis (bifida x taitungensis), and the second is Cycas x panziholuta (panzhihuanensis x revoluta). We have found that hybrids between hardy species are even more winter hardy than the species themselves. Hardiness for both is probably Zone 7b and south.
Last year, we were thrilled when one of our cycads produced a female cone…a first for JLBG. We subsequently impregnated it with pollen supplied from the garden of one or our former volunteers, Mike Papay. Our plant produced a great seed crop (56 seed), which was recently planted.
As a point of reference, I should mention that cycads are dioecious…each plant is either male or female. The genus cycas is one of the oldest known surviving plant genera, having emerged between 250 and 350 million years ago, when it diverged from ginkgos. Cycas, having been around for a very long time, also have supercharged, swimming sperm…a trait not seen in modern plants.
This year, we welcomed our first male cycad to cone. The first photo was taken 1 month prior to the second photo, so it’s taken that long for this males’ cone to grow from a tiny bulge to be ready to spread its pollen (sperm). Since we don’t have any flowering females in the garden this year, we’re shipping off the pollen to a palm and cycad breeder in Georgia. This afternoon, we used the Lorena Bobbitt technique to sever its cone, which is now boxed (bottom image) and leaving town before the plant rights groups find out.
There’s something artistically fascinating about the new leaves of cycads as they unfurl.These cycads are planted right outside our door, so we get to enjoy the spring flush of new growth as it emerges. Even though we lose the old foliage below 12 degrees F, it’s worth it all to watch these new fronds.