Two Great New Plants from China (Part Two)

Cycas debaoensis is a rare cycad first discovered in 1996 in Debao county, GuangXi province in southern China. Photo to the right is my very own precious specimen bought last year (2007) from Palm and Cycad Exchange in Southern California. It is easily the most expensive plant I have ever bought, and my wife was very understanding even though I did not tell her the price beforehand. This particular one was grown from seed in Costa Rica and was then imported to California with all the leaves and roots chopped off. The seller re-established a number of them but he told me that he had sold a lot of those bare cycads (sort of look like a small deformed pineapple) to many people who paid in advance, even without a guarantee of viability.

Sago Palm Cycads in general look like small palms and are called “living fossils” since their ancestors were the dominant plant group during the Jurassic Period, happily coexisting with dinosaurs. Nowadays their range are confined to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, and almost all of the 300 or so cycad species are facing extinction due to loss of habitat and human collection from the wild.

The most common cycad is Sago Palm, or Cycas revoluta, as shown to the left. It is a cycad, not a palm, with seed-bearing cones that are similar to pines and other conifers. This is a great evergreen sculptural landscape plant that is also very easy to care for. In Kyoto, Japan, gardeners would go into great trouble of wrapping lots of rice stalks around specimen Sago Palms every winter for protection and the results as seen in the photo below is quite interesting.

Sago in WinterMost cycads have pinnate leaves just like those of Sago Palms. Cycas debaoensis, however, has bi-pinnate leaves, a rare trait shared only with a handful of other cycad species. These lacy leaves look more like those of clumping bamboos than palms, and some suggest that this is an evolutional adaptation for this beautiful plant.

Cycas debaoensis was discovered around a small village in Debao county in GuangXi Autonomous Region in China. The local landscape is dominated by lush limestone peaks similar to the famous Karst scenary in Guilin. The weather is subtropical, warm and humid in the summer, cool and dry in the winter.

Debao landscape

According to growers in Hawaii and Florida, Cycas debaoensis is one of the fastest growing cycads in cultivation. From seeds, they can start bearing cones in three years. Like all cycads, this one needs very well drained growing media and lots of root space. The leaves can reach 12′ long and the whole plant can hold 5-10 leaves at any time. When new leaves are emerging, it is very important to keep this cycad well watered, since the new leaves can abort otherwise. The photo below was taken in September 2007, right after my plant had grown a new leaf. This year I plan to repot it into a 15 gallon container from its current 5 gallon one. Hopefully this will make it happy to throw out more new leaves.
My Cycas debaoensis

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