Macrozamias part 2: the Parazamias (smaller Macrozamias)
As with the larger species, all the smaller Macrozamias are Australian in origin. However unlike the larger plants, these are far less popular among collectors and less noticeable among locals as they are typically grass-like with subterranean stems/caudeces, often growing among real grasses, making them hard to find. This is fortunate for the plants, as a few of the smaller Macrozamias--despite being incredibly ornamental--are endangered. Few gardeners use them in landscaping, which is too bad; many are great landscape plants, though perhaps in a smaller, cozier landscape than what you would plant the larger species in. And most, if not all, make great potted specimens, particularly if their caudeces are raised up a bit. Some of these tend to have interesting twisted, spiraling leaves and some have a great deal of unusual color. Most are slow-growing and can take decades to develop into decent potted specimens or landscape plants. These are also fairly cold-tolerant plants, relative to most other species of cycad, though most of these species do not enjoy full blazing, hot summer sun like we have here in southern California.
The following is a brief overview of some of the more commonly available species. This is not an all-inclusive list as some species are very hard to find and photograph. Most of the following plants are those I have experience growing, or I know others who have them in their collections.
Macrozamia concinna is a compact plant with simple leaves, but a very twisted rachis. This plant tends to only hold 1 to 4 leaves at a time, so juvenile plants do not look like much; most seedlings have only 1 to 2 leaves. Leaflets are short, stiff and thin, making them look like pine needles. This is not a common plant in cultivation but not one of the more overly sought plants, either. For that reason, I have only the photos below; they are seedlings of mine and sadly, they are not indicative of this species at maturity. Some day I may amend this article should I live long enough (and so do my plants.)
Macrozamia concinna in pot and in the garden, both are seedlings
Macrozamia fawcettii is one of the twisted-leaf varieties and has flattish, parallel leaflets that protrude laterally in a radial pattern. These leaflets are smooth, shiny bright green and end in a rounded tip. The leaflets are flexible and easy to bend without breaking. There is some ornamental pink coloration at the spots where the leaflets join the leaf rachis (this spot is called the callus) making this one of the more attractive species. Plants are small, only growing up to 12 inches and rarely to 18 inches tall. It is a great species for pot growth or for small, open landscapes with some overhead protection from hot sun.
Macrozamia fawcetii in garden; shady condition and sunny one
Macrozamia fearnsidei is a medium-sized plant with exceptionally long leaflets for a Parazamia species. It is from a small area of eastern Australia inland and from a wooded area where the plant is very common. This is a relatively rare species and not often collected. The leaves, because of the long, drooping relatively soft leaflets, have an unkempt appearance, made sloppier by a tendency for the rachis to twist just a bit. However it is still an ornamental plant and a good one for landscaping in smaller areas or pot culture.
(left) Macrozamia fearnsidei in pot (large mature specimen.) (middle) My seedling in garden. (right) Close-up of leaves
Macrozamia flexuosa is another twisted leaf plant with a plume-like appearance to the relatively long leaves (up to almost 3 feet in length.) Leaflets are thin and grass-like. Mature leaves are deep green but start out a deep maroon or brown color as they are emerging. The calluses start out a nice pinkish color, but gradually turn to yellow as the leaves harden to maturity. This is an attractive plant but tends to look a bit unkempt and messy with 4 to 12 long plume-like leaves twist about. Many confuse this with Macrozamia pauli-guilielmi, which is similarly twisted but tends to be a larger plant with larger leaves and wider leaflets.
(left) Macrozamia flexuosa in pot. (middle) Hidden in garden. (right) Close-up of leaves.
Macrozamia glaucophylla is one of the larger Parazamias and a non-twisted leaf species. The leaves are a nice glaucous color, particularly when new and still soft, with mostly divided leaflets of a blue-green coloration. Leaves are up to 3 feet long and tend to recurve near the tips. Some forms have wiry slight twisted leaflets that make the plant look unkempt. Others have bluer leaves with leaflets all pointing vertically and neatly arranged along the petioles forming a tight ‘V' in cross section. This latter form is one of the best of all the Macrozamias for pot culture and one of the most beautiful smaller cycads. It is also one of the most cold-tolerant of the Parazamias, growing where frost occurs much of the winter.
(left) Mature Macrozamia glaucophylla. (middle) The more twisted form in a garden setting. (right) One of my own seedlings.
Macrozamia lomondroides is a rare plant and very endangered from the coast of eastern Australia. Leaves are long for a Parazamia (up to 3 feet) and twisted with flopping, relatively wide leaflets. It is not one of the more ornamental species, but sought after due to its rarity. This is not a very cold-hardy species.
Macrozamia pauli-guilielmi is hard to spell and harder to pronounce, this is one the ‘classic' Parazamia species with exceptionally twisted, long leaves and long, drooping narrow leaflets coming off in a radial pattern making a sparse-looking plume. Add this to 3 to 6 more leaves and it can be one of the more difficult plants to photograph and make sense of what one is seeing. Infamous for its toxicity to cattle, this plant has been eradicated from part of its range and is endangered now. In nature this plant looks more like grass than a cycad, so is easily mistaken for such and eaten. This is a relatively common species for a Parazamia (none which are really common) and one of the few that can be obtained at a size larger than a 1 to 2 leaf seedling.
Macrozamia parcifolia is a smaller species with upright very twisted leaves up to 2 feet long and very thin, needle-like (but not sharp-tipped) leaflets that protrude laterally in younger plants but tend to lengthen and get really droopy in older plants. Yet, despite the twisting and drooping, the plants still seem somewhat organized and have an exceptionally ornamental look, perfect for pot culture. It is like a super thin-leaf form of Macrozamia pauli-guilielmi.
Macrozamia platyrachis has the widest of all the leaflets of the Parazamias, and a flattened rachis as well; hence the name. Leaflets tend to grow upright and parallel along the rachis, though these leaves twist more with age giving a more plumose look to the leaves. Leaves grow up to 3 feet long but I have never seen one with leaves close to that long. It is a relatively rare plant in cultivation but a sought after one as it is particularly ornamental.
Macrozamia platyrachis mature plant and seedling
Macrozamia polymorpha is one of the most commonly grown and available of the Parazamia Macrozamias and one of the few that is a ‘neat and tidy' plant. It has generally upright leaves with flattened moderately wide upright simple or divided leaflets that come off the rachis in a ‘V' in cross section. Plants grow moderately slow, but faster than most other Parazamias and can become interesting landscape or potted specimens in fewer than ten years.
Macrozamia polymorpha mature plant and seedling
Macrozmia stenomera is native to New South Wales where it grows in some pretty harsh, rocky woodland environments, receiving a good deal of frost and heat. It has an underground caudex and unique multi-divided leaflets on 4 or 5 leaves (on a mature plant). This is a prized Macrozamia because of its unusual leaf pattern with as many as 6 subleaflets making up each leaflet. Additionally the leaves tend to twist giving the effect of a dense plume of fine grass-like leaves. Some forms are a deep turquoise blue-green and these are even more sought after. Even seedlings of this plant can cost hundreds of dollars. A large mature plants is a pricey collector's item.
Macrozamia stenomera mature plant
(left) Macrozamia stenomera green form. (middle) Macrozamia stenomera blue form (righ) Macrozamia stenomera, my own seedling.
As you can see from the photos, some of these plants are worth collecting and make great potted specimens. You just have to be patient and plan on living a number of decades to see them develop.
For more on Macrozamia, see Ken Hill's the Cycad Pages at : http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/PlantNet/cycad/mackey.html