Palm imposter :Popular sago palm is not a palm at all

Palm imposter :Popular sago palm is not a palm at all

Dinosaurs probably snacked on the relatives of the cycads that you have in our yard today. Yes, cycads are those unique plants that resemble palm trees. The cycad family dominated the landscape during the Mesozoic era more than 150 million years ago. We are probably most familiar with the cycad called the sago palm.

The sago is a very symmetrical plant that supports a crown of shiny, dark green leaves. The trunk is thick and shaggy. They grow very slowly but some can eventually reach 10-12 feet in height.

Sago palms are the common local name of the tropical plant. But they are not really a palm tree at all. These cycads are native to China and Japan. They are popular for landscape use. Their unique architectural shape makes them showstoppers.

Sago palms have been described as humankind’s oldest food plant. The pith of the palm is crushed for food. It was a common staple food for natives in Asia before the introduction of rice. Sago starch is still used for making noodles, and flour for bread and cake.

Sagos are a wonderful plant for both indoor and outdoor use. They look great in the shrub border or as an accent on an expanse of lawn. Place them near the patio, in entryways or in rock and sand gardens. Sagos mix well with border grasses like liriope.

Sagos in the landscape will grow more quickly than those in containers. They are very easy to grow. Give them a location with full sun or partial shade. As with most plants, good drainage is important. Fertilize on a regular basis during the growing season of March through September. Master gardeners suggest that if you are trying to really increase the size of the sago plant, use a palm fertilizer four times a year.

Southern sago palms can be loosely divided into three species. The king sago palm will tolerate colder temperatures, surviving short periods of below 32 degrees.

They should reach 5 feet in height. The queen sago is for south Floridians unless you are willing to protect it when the temperature dips below 55 degrees. The prince sago is also cold hardy and a faster grower the king sago.

Not only unique and tropical feeling, the sago palms are legendary. They have not only outlived dinosaurs, but also will survive our humid, hot Texas climate and give you a spot of green all year long. Next week let’s check out how to grow new sago palms from the “sago pups.” This is almost the best time of the year to create new baby sagos.

Joette is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news with Joette, call (409) 832-1400 or fax her at (409) 832-6222. Her e-mail is joreger [at] msn [dot] com.