Dwarf palm - Cycas revoluta

Dwarf palm - Cycas revoluta

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The cycas revoluta is an evergreen plant suitable for the garden or apartment, originating from Asia; it is one of the oldest plants on earth, in ancient times it was widespread all over the globe. Develops a short, stocky, woody stem, covered with brown scales; at the apex of the stem develops a large crown consisting of long pinnate, rigid, dark green leaves. They grow very slowly, and the adult specimens can reach 200-300 cm in height; these are very long-lived plants.
Cycas revoluta is a dioecious plant (which produces only male or female flowers), so there are two different types of inflorescence.
Both inflorescences develop inside the crown of leaves. However, while the male has scales that form a strobilus containing the pollen sacs, the female instead has transformed leaves (bracts) at the edges of which the ova form (which, once fertilized, turn pink). The seed, very fleshy, is still used today in the regions of origin for food purposes.

Cycas plant

There cycads revoluta is a very ancient plant, we could say primitive, especially among those that reproduce by seed. It is also very widespread and popular because it is very ornamental.
It is composed of a wrinkled trunk with a crown of leaves similar to a plumage on top.
After long studies it was inserted between the conifers and is considered strictly related to the Ginko Biloba. It is believed that it was already present in the Mesozoic era. In fact it is usually classified as a "living fossil" and just by examining the fossils it has been established that the last 200 million years have changed very little.

Flowering spring
Pollination June
Seeds ripening January February
Sowing March April
Suckers removal From autumn to spring
repotting From spring to summer
Planting in the garden Late winter-early spring
Plant cleaning End of winter
Composting Twice a year, from spring to autumn


The cycas revoluta love sunny, or slightly shady locations; in general they can withstand temperatures of some degrees below zero, for periods not too long. In the central southern regions they can be cultivated in the garden, while in the north they are container plants and during the winter they are sheltered in the apartment or in a cold greenhouse. Even in the apartment we try to place the plant in a cold and very bright place. The specimens exposed to the winter cold can lose the aerial part due to exceptionally rigid temperatures: usually with the arrival of spring the plant produces new leaves.
The ideal exposure is without doubt the full sun. However, they also adapt well to closed environments, although they are very bright. You must receive a good amount of light for at least four hours, in the morning or in the afternoon.

Cycas features

As the la dwarf palm it grows, shows more its natural growth. A trunk develops with a diameter from 3 to 35 cm in diameter, depending on the age, surmounted by a crown of very elegant leaves, which may recall the shape of large feathers. The leaves are not produced continuously, but during the vintage there are flows of growth and arrest.

Watering fertilizing cycas

The plants of dwarf palm they can withstand even long periods of drought, but to avoid that the leaves get damaged or stunted it is advisable to water them regularly, from March to October, when the soil is dry; the specimens grown in the apartment should be watered even during the winter, but sporadically, remembering to wait for the soil to dry perfectly between one watering and another. During the vegetative period, fertilize every 20-30 days with balanced fertilizer; at the beginning of spring provide an iron-based fertilizer.
The more the specimen is well exposed, the more it will need water and food. The ideal is to proceed when the substrate is almost completely dry. After several years they can be considered autonomous and therefore we can avoid intervening.
Instead, be particularly careful with those in containers, especially to avoid exaggerating. We wait for the substratum to be completely dry and then we give water very slowly. Generally, during the summer, proceed weekly. In winter it can be sufficient even once a month.
Fertilization is necessary from spring to autumn. We can administer a medium dose of slow release granular fertilizer twice a year, remembering however that it is better to give less than too much. If the plant is poorly exposed or kept in an apartment it will be enough of this quantity.


The Cycas revoluta or dwarf palm is a plant that grows in well-drained soils and hates water stagnation. For this reason it is recommended to add draining material to the growing substrate (pumice, agriperlite, sand, expanded clay or similar). The soil must also be rich in humus and soft.
The best time for planting and for repotting is spring. This last operation must be carried out every 2 or 3 years. It is advisable not to use excessively large vessels and to increase the diameter progressively.
It must be well drained and rich in organic matter. In the garden it will be good to insert the collar slightly above the ground, creating a mound, so as to avoid the accumulation of water, causing possible rotting in that delicate area.


The propagation is quite simple and can be carried out in different ways, mainly by seed or by picking suckers.
It occurs mainly through the division of the shoots emitted by the plant, at the beginning of spring or at the beginning of autumn. Once the plants are rooted they will be packed in small containers about 10 cm in diameter. Sowing is another method of reproduction.
It is carried out in the spring period. However, since the germination of the seeds is rather low, this type of propagation is little used.
By seed
First of all it is necessary to specify that it is a dioecious plant. This means that there are male and female specimens. Therefore, in order to be able to reproduce by seed, it is necessary to have both to make pollination happen. Unfortunately this in Italy is difficult to happen because the vast majority of plants, deriving from vegetative division, are female. It should also be pointed out that before seeing the cycads bloom one must wait several years and have the right pedoclimatic conditions.
However, the production of female flowers and male cones takes place at the beginning of summer, also depending on the climate of our geographical area. The seeds then develop during the summer and are ready to be taken around January-February. They must then be left in water for several days to remove the red skin. Instead, the hard white must be left. They can be immediately planted or stored in a cool, dry place until March-April.
They should be placed in a well-drained compote, leaving the eye to come out. We keep everything moist but not soaked. Usually the twinning occurs within 3-9 months. To achieve an acceptable size, however, it may also require three years of growth.
Through suckers
These are produced at the base or along the crown of leaves. They are an excellent source for obtaining new plants. They must be removed at the beginning of spring or from the end of autumn to winter using a shovel or sharp little knife to remove them from the trunk. All the leaves and roots will then be removed. They must then be left to dry for about 10 days. Afterwards they will be inserted in a container with light and well-drained soil with at least half of the underground trunk. We are constantly, but moderately. The ideal is to wait until it is completely dry before proceeding again. The specimens will be kept in an area sheltered from strong light or inside. The roots will slowly begin to develop and the leaves will pop up only several months later. At that moment we will be able to administer a mild dose of fertilizer for green plants and begin to irrigate more. We expect the root system to be well formed before proceeding with repotting or final planting in the ground.

Pests and cycads diseases

The drawback that occurs more often is undoubtedly the appearance of yellow leaves.
Generally, if these were the old ones the cause is excessive irrigation or too much fertilizer. These same causes can also cause the new foliage to yellow, but possibly even too poor a soil. In any case it is good to eliminate them by cutting at the base with sterilized scissors.
Often it happens that the leaves of cycas yellow irreparably, this phenomenon may be due to nutritional or water deficiencies, or to attack by scale insects, which should be clearly visible under the leaves. In general, the yellowing due to nutritional deficiencies is widespread in wide zoning over the whole leaf, while the cochineal yellowing causes characteristic punctuation.
Cycas can be attacked by cottony cochineal or scudetto. In this case we intervene with a specific insecticide and mineral oil.

Dwarf palm origins

Cycas are widespread in many parts of the world, but Cycas revoluta is native to the Far East where it is traditionally used as a pot plant or for landscaping.

Cultivation of cycas

It can be said that cycas is one of the easiest plants to grow both indoors and outdoors, and can be taken into consideration by both the expert gardener and the novice gardener.
This is because it adapts to a wide range of temperatures (it has no problems from -10 to more than 40 ° C). It is also very tolerant of exposure. It lives well in full sun or partial shade and inside it can develop well even with artificial lighting.
In addition, they are all rather long-lived and do not require constant care.
They even carry transplants very well: a few years ago a specimen of more than 200 years was moved to the Kew Gardens in London without being particularly affected.

How does the cycas plant grow?

The new leaves emerge all together creating a crown. In the first weeks they are very thin and fragile. In that period it is strongly advised against proceeding with repotting or other maneuvers. Let's make sure that the specimen receives the right amount of light. A not very bright exposure leads to the formation of short leaves of a slightly pleasant light green.
If the light comes from a window it will be good to often worry about rotating the vase so that all the parts of the plant can take advantage of the same amount of light and consequently grow in a balanced manner. We keep the soil always humid in this period because the new foliage is very sensitive to drought and could react by drying out or withering.

Cycas slow growth

Does it grow fast? No, cycads grow very slowly. At most (in ideal conditions) they can produce three new crowns of leaves a year and grow about 3 cm in height. The diameter of the trunk also increases by at most 3 cm per year. The specimens kept in a container, however, are even slower. This is why they are very often used to be transformed into beautiful bonsai.
On the other hand, this slow growth gives the tree the possibility of being very long-lived and resistant

Climate cycas

As we have said, it is a very adaptable vegetable. Resists well up to -10 ° C. If we live in an area where it is possible to reach lower temperatures it will be good to place the cycas in an area sheltered by a wall, possibly in the south. Furthermore we can protect the specimen with non-woven fabric. Excessive frost, especially if prolonged, can cause yellowing of the leaves which will generally die. They will be removed when spring arrives to encourage the production of new ones.
If the cold was really excessive, the plant could be seriously damaged. However, we proceed to explant only if the trunk is soft and no longer woody. If it were still hard there is a strong probability that it will eventually recover.


In this respect it is not particularly sensitive. It lives well both in areas with very dry air and in those where humidity is very high.


The period to proceed is from spring to summer. We choose a container only slightly larger than the previous one.


For planting in the ground we avoid an area where there is a depression. In fact, their root system does not like water stagnation. The ideal is where there is a well-drained soil. Let us also remember that over the years it could become a large specimen. We then let free at least an area with a diameter of about 2 meters.

Cleaning of the cycas

The plant must be cleaned once a year by removing the old leaves, generally the lower ones and eventually the yellow or brown ones. We cut as close as possible to the trunk.

Dwarf palm - Cycas revoluta: Variety

In Italy the species is almost only available. However, there are also variegated cultivars in gold (with yellow leaf tips), with completely yellow or even silver leaves. They are very rare though.
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