Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Crazy Plants: Cardboard Palm

Zamia furfuracea, also known as the cardboard palm

The common name of this plant is actually a misnomer. Though called a "palm," this plant is actually a cycad, a primitive sort of plant that thrives in hot climates. In fact, cycads were one of the most dominant forms of plant life when dinosaurs roamed the planet! The common name of "palm" is very frequently used among the cycads, due to their superficial resemblance to those more highly evolved true palms. For this plant specifically, the term "cardboard" is used because of the nature of the leaves, They are very stiff and slightly fuzzy and do, in fact, feel remarkably like cardboard. Diameter of a full-grown cardboard palm is approximately six feet. During reproduction, they produce cones in both sexes, and the seeds the female cones produce are bright red in color. Cycads are very slow-growing plants, and generally "flush" new leaves once to twice a year, depending on conditions. They are used in cultivation, and also occasionally as house plants.

Unfortunately, the cardboard palm is highly toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. When eaten the toxic chemical, cycasin, causes vomiting, bruising, liver failure, other nasty symptoms, and eventually, death. So, if you ever see one of these plants in your area, or keep one in your home, be sure to keep your pet from ingesting any of it. If they do, call your veterinarian immediately.

A close-up of the leaves
This is one of the few plants that I actually learned about in my (very poorly instructed) Botany class. We actually have them on campus, but Georgia is a bit too cold for them and when we do have a good frost they all die off. The only cycad that truely thrives in this area is the king sago palm (Cycas revoluta) which, if I remember right is the most cold-tolerant of the cycads. The king sago is a commonly used plant in cultivation, especially in the warmer climes. There are actually four of them in the lawn at the house I used to live at and countless more on campus.

Sources are Stokes Tropicals, Floridata, Florida Palm Trees, and my old Botany text. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

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