Cycads are the most ancient plants on earth existing today. Cycads were highly spread out in Mesozoic era with known contribution to the vegetation of Jurassic and Triassic ages 120 to 200 million years ago. International attention is being drawn to protect these plants nearing extinction.
We find cycads around us in the name of King Sago Palm and cardboard palm. Cycads are not related to palm. Palms have seeds inside fleshy fruits and belong to the flowering plants classification. Cycads have open seeds in their cones and the confusion as a relation to palm is due to the naming of certain species of cycads as palms as in the case of Sago palm and cardboard palm. Cycads are living fossils and occur in colonies in suitable environment.
Cycads have tough spiny leaves with a fibrous stem. Roots can be lateral, anchoring and coralloid. Roots have symbiotic bacteria for fixation of nitrogen. Cycads can be male or female plants, i.e., cycads are dioecious by nature. These plants survive by pollination by wind and insects the majority being weevils that are attracted by the heat and odor generated by the cycads. Seeds of cycad are bright colored with a stony inside. Animals attracted by the bright outer coat eat the seeds and leave out the vital part of the seeds to germinate, Cycads grow very slowly. Cycads exist in harsh conditions and can grow in rock or sand surviving both in deserts as well as in freezing climates. Cycads live beyond 2500 years
Cycads are commonly known broodbome or bread trees because the starch in their stem is used as an edible item known as ‘muthi’ by Seminole Indians believing in indigenous preparations even today. The starch known as zamia pumila contain toxic chemical compounds that are treated to reduce toxicity before consumption.
Cycads are rare and female mature cycads produce seeds are sought after by everyone. Male Cycads look ornamental with red cones and make a perfect garden plant with easy maintenance. Cycads are considered as status symbols all over the world. Older plants fetch thousands of dollars and increase the value of your garden multifold in a decade. Price of a cycad plant depends on the age, size of the stem and species.
Study reveals that there may be still 100 unidentified species of cycads in Asia and South American regions where there are lot of specimens of locally grown plant species. Hotspots of cycads diversity is found to be in Asia pacific regions of Australia, china, Vietnam with South Africa and Mexico accounting for more than 70% of the earth’s cycad specimens.