It's spring and the center of these ancient clumps of cardboard palm erupts in light green with the annual flush of fresh green foliage.
This is another of our "living fossil" plants, its kind surviving on earth since the time of the dinosaurs. Cardboard palm belongs to the Cycad family (cycad is greek for "palm" to which most cycads bear resemblance). Other cycads include the coontie palm and the sago palm (of course neither of these are palms but they really do look them!)
Cardboard palm has leaves 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) long that emerge from a central point forming a rosette. When grown in bright sunlight the rosette becomes a 3 foot high clump of tightly overlapping leaves that will slowly grow to 6 ft (1.8 m) in diameter. The thick leathery leaves are pinnate and have 5 in (12.7 cm) long by 1 in (2.5 cm) wide oval leaflets. They are slightly fuzzy and feel a little like cardboard when rubbed.
Because of its ruggedness, low maintence and drought tolerance, the cardboard palm is often used in commercial plantings.
The foliage emerges from a thick fleshy trunk that serves as a water reservoir in times of drought. Male and female reproductive structures (cones) form on separate plants. Even very young plants produce these interestingly shaped cones. When ripe, the female cone breaks to reveal an array of tightly packed, bright red 1 in (2.5 cm) seeds.
Cardboard palm is native to the warm sandy coastal plains of Mexico and is a common landscape item in tropical and sub-tropical areas all over the world. It is also a popular and easy to grow houseplant.
Plant cardboard palm in neutral, well drained sandy soil. Mulch with organic materials (bark or leaf mold). Light: Bright sun to partial shade. Moisture: Water when dry. Drought tolerant. Hardiness:USDA Zones 9 - 11. Sustains leaf damage at 28ºF (-2.2ºC) Propagation: Propagate by seed.
The cardboard palm is spectacular in containers and is even happy living out on seaside condo balconies.
Cardboard palm makes a great accent or specimen plant. Use near the patio, in mixed foundation plantings or in perennial beds. This cycad is salt resistant and can be used in beachside plantings. Also makes a great container plant for the patio or deck. It is a great houseplant tough enough to survive occasional neglect and harsh indoor environments.
With its beautiful shape, exotic looking cones and instinct for survival, cardboard palm is one of my favorite plants. Large outdoor clumps are striking as the light olive green new growth emerges to hover above a base of darker mature leaves. Specimens can be grown indoors in shallow containers. Used this way, the partially exposed tuberous stem and the airy crown of leaves create a striking bonsai specimen.
WARNING A Floridata visitor reports that his dog died after chewing Zamia seeds. Many plants contain compounds that can cause sickness and even death. Protect pets and instruct children to never eat or chew ANY plant material without permission.