Photo by Melody
It's time now to VOTE in our 14th annual photo contest! Voting ends November 7, so be sure to cast your votes for your favorites in each category here. Good luck to all contestants!

Introduction to Zamias, the Tropical Cycads

By Geoff Stein (palmbobAugust 3, 2009
bookmark

Zamia is one of the larger genera of Cycads, yet one of the least understood. This is partly due to their tropical and inaccessible origins as well as their tropical cultivational needs. But as a group this is one of the most ornamental of the cycads and certainly worthy of cultivation should one live in the right climate for them.

Gardening pictureThere are about 50 species of Zamia (53 to 61 depending on your source, at the time of writing this article) but with new species being discovered and described nearly every year, as well as some species being lumped together and others divided up as is always happening in the ongoing war of systematics.  All Zamias are New World plants with the majority being from Central America.  There are a few North American natives, and dozens of South American species.  Most Zamias are native to the tropical jungles and forests in between where few of us get to see them.  Only a few species are readily recognizable to the average plant collector, but of those, at least one is among the most commonly grown of all the cycads (Zamia furfuracea aka Cardboard Palm) and another very familiar to those from Florida (Zamia integrifolia, or Coontie).  This genus also includes the only epiphytic cycad that I am aware of: Zamia pseudoparasitica.  Though Zamias as a group are among the smallest cycads, some species are quite large, having trunks up to 20 feet tall.   Most Zamias have symmetrically lancelote, smooth to shiny leaves without teeth (there are several exceptions to this) or midribs.  Petioles tend to be fairly long, some markedly spiny and most arching.  Cones are corncob-like with sporophyls stacked in parallel rows. 

Image Image Image

'typical' Zamia leaves- shiny and either glossy smooth or deeply ridged: (from left to right- Zamia splendens, Zamia neurophyllidia and Zamia polymorpha)

ImageImageImage

less typicl Zamia leaves:  narrow (Zamia angustifolia), fuzzy/rough (Zamia furfuracea) and toothed and papery (Zamia vasquezii)

Image Image 

  mature male cones (Zamia neurophyllidia) and female cones (Zamia vasquezii)

Image  Image

 Open male cone (Zamia integrifolia);  Ripe Zamia integrifolia cone (photo MotherNature4)

As a group, Zamias are some of the least drought and cold tolerant of the cycads, though there are exceptions, of course.

 Image Zamia furfuracea leaves fried by 25F frost in my garden

Most Zamias are at least somewhat toxic, though the major toxic elements are the fruits and seeds.  This is important information for those who want to grow Zamias, but have dogs that tend to eat fruits in the yard.  Since I live in a relatively arid climate, this is not a big concern as rarely do Zamias fruit here (they cone easilyl enough, but don't seem to get a whole lot farther than that).  But it is a very big concern in Florida or other humid, warm locales.

Image These fruits are attractive and even mildly tasty to dogs (Zamia furfuracea in Florida)

                   photo TamiMcNally

The following are a few selected species which are fairly common in cultivation:

Zamia angustifolia, a Bahama and Cuban native, is another relatively cold-tolerant species that I am able to grow fairly easily in Southern California.  It has very thin leaflets and is amazingly sun tolerant for a Zamia (most of the thin-leaved Zamias seem pretty sun tolerant).  Cold hardiness is at least down to 26F (-3.5C) and it seems to have no problems with high heat other than developing some degree of blanching on its leaflets.  It is a smallish species with an underground caudex.

 Image Image Mature Zamia angustifolia (left) and my own plant (right)

Zamia encephalartoides is is one of my favorite of the Zamias and a really nice collector's item, though rare (I have never gotten ahold of one.)  It is a native of Colombia which makes collecting seeds a bit of a potential health hazard.  It is a large branching plant with good sun tolerance and even a bit of cold tolerance down to about 26F (-3.5C).  As it's name suggests, this looks more like an Encephalartos than a Zamia with its broad, ovoid leaflets and deeply recurved, stiff leaves.  But is so named because the female cone looks just like that of a Encephalartos species. (I have no photos of this species, but you can see images at this web page.)

 Image Image Zamia encephalartoides

Zamia furfuracea (Cardboard Palm) is probably one of the most commonly cultivated of all the cycads, with only Cycas revoluta (aka Sago Palm) (and maybe Dioon edule in some parts of the world) being more commonly grown.  It is a fairly easy plant to grow with a lot of tolerance for growing in low light as well as full sun.  Additionally it is a drought-tolerant plant (some grow it successfully like one would a desert succulent) that also grows very well in very high rainfall situations that would rot most desert succulents.  What it certainly does not share with the other common cycad species is cold tolerance with severe leaf damage occurring at temps not far below freezing.  However the caudex, which is mostly subterranean (usually) can withstand temperatures down into the low 20sF briefly, so defoliated plants in zones 9b and 10a will usually regrow.  Though not terribly cold tolerant, it is relative to the cold tolerance of most other Zamia species, many which cannot survive in USDA zones 10a or below.  Zamia furfuracea is also popular because is moderately salt tolerant so can be grown easily along the coast and even in sandy areas along the beaches. This species is one of the few Zamias with rough textured leaves.  The more common leaf form in cultivation is the one with wider, round-tipped leaves.  However the wild type is a plant with lancelote leaves.  Presumably the rarer ‘round-leaf' form was felt to more ornamental so that is one that has become more common in the nursery trade.  Zamia furfuracea is a significant source of animal and child poisonings in warmer, humid climates where the highly toxic fruits commonly develop.  In arid climates, such as the one I live in (southern California) fruit formation is extremely rare.  Despite its being a commonplace Zamia, it is threatened in the wild.

 Image Image Image

        Zamia furfuracea in Florida and Thailand (first two photos)              Zamia furfuracea in my garden, southern California, with new leaves developing

Image Image Fuzzy new leaves (left) and narrow-leaf form (right)

zamias for saleZamia furfuraceas can be found in large numbers at many nurseries throughout the country.  They are getting really cheap.  

Zamia inermis is included here since I have a couple in the garden and they are doing fairly well, though very slow (for me).  This is another cold and sun tolerant narrow leaflet species and performs fairly well in both sun and shade for me.  It is Mexican native and grows in climates not dissimilar to Zamia furfuracea.  Caudex is always underground.

 ImageImageImage

                                                   Zamia inermis in tropics (left), greenhouse (middle photo) and my own plant (right)

Zamia integrifolia (Coontie) is a U.S. native, though it is native to multiple Caribbean countries as well.  This plant is often grown or sold under the synonym Zamia floridana.  This is one of the more cold-tolerant of all the Zamias, surviving temperatures down to 15F (-9C) regularly.  Despite this cold tolerance it still is a heat-loving species growing very slowly in my cool, arid climate of Southern California.  In its native Florida this is a very easy and relatively fast growing plant- fast enough to be useful as a commercial landscaping plant (takes decades to be a decent landscape plant in my climate).  Most plants have dozens of thin arching leaves with narrow leaflets. These leaflets are smooth, shiny and have a rounded end.  In nature this plant as a subterranean caudex, but in pot cultivation a few inches of the caudex can be raised for ornamental value.  This plant is also a common source of pet toxicities in Florida.

 Image Image Zamia integrifolia in Florida, and bonsai (photo irmaly)

Zamia neurophyllidia is a relatively common tropical species and most botanical gardens with a conservatory will have a specimen.  I have grown this one in southern California outdoors for years, but it has never done well for me, and eventually expires.  It really needs the warmth and humidity, similar to where it is from (Panama and Costa Rica).  This is a moderate sized cycad with a caudex up to two feet tall and has distinctively elliptical shiny, deeply grooved leaflets.  A similar species, Zamia skinneri, is a ‘giant-leaved' version of this plant and is a popular collector species among cycad enthusiasts.

 Image Image Image

                                                                                                Zamia neurophyllidia

ImageImageImage

                                                                              Closely related species, Zamia skinneri

Zamia pseudoparasitica is the only truly epiphytic cycad, growing only in tree branches in nature (Panama), never on the ground.  It is a beautiful species with long, arcing leaves with leathery, falcate leaflets.  Sadly it is fairly tropical in its needs and would not survive my climate in southern California unless grown in a greenhouse.  Fortunately it is becoming more widely available for those that do have a suitably environment for it.

 ImageImageImage

                           Zamia pseudoparasitica in Hawaii (first two photos) and one in protected outdoor situation southern California

Zamia vasquezii  is another fairly common cycad, sometimes showing up at garden outlet nurseries and many nurseries which carry a variety of warm-climate plants.  For years this plant was sold and grown as Zamia fischeri, but the true Zamia fischeri is a much smaller and rarer plant.  Zamia vasquezii has numerous leaves with almost papery thin deltoid, toothed leaflets while Zamia fischeri only sports a few leaves at a time with narrowly lancelote, toothless, leathery leaflets.  This is not a particularly good full sun plant, but makes a great potted or garden shade plant with some cold tolerance (easy plant in most zone 9bs), and can even be grown as an indoor plant if given sufficient light.

 Image Image Zamia vasquezii in landscape, and in cactus show

Image Image The REAL Zamia fischeri

The following are some snapshots of some of the other Zamias, most which are less commonly encountered in cultivation.

 Image Image Image

              Zamia acuminata                               Zamia amblyphyllidia                                                     Zamia amplyfolia

 Image Image Image

          Zamia angustissima                                                      Zamia dressleri                                 Zamia fairchildiana

Image Image Image

Zamia herrerae (a good one for southern California)               Zamia ipetiensis                                  Zamia lecointei

Image Image Image

 Zamia kickxii (some consider = Zamia pygmaea); Zamia pygmaea (middle) and Zamia loddegesii  (right): All these can live outdoors in southern California

Image Image Image

        Zamia manicata                                    Zamia poepiggiana (= Zamia lindenii?)           Zamia lindenii in southern California

ImageImageImage

              Zamia obliqua (left)         Zamia polymorpha (middle)         Zamia portoricensis (right): these last two also are good choices for Southern California

Image Image Image

        Zamia prasina                                                 Zamia pseudomonticola                                                   Zamia purpurea

 ImageImageImage

  Zamia roezlii (left):   Zamia soconucensis (middle);   Zamia spartea (right) (as with most other thin leaf species, a good Southern California choice)

Image  Image 

   Zamia splendens (aka Zamia verschaffeltii) and Zamia standleyi- also Southern California survivors

Image Image Zamias tuerckheimii and variegata (aka picta)

 

 


  About Geoff Stein  
Geoff SteinVeterinarian and Exotic Plant Lover... and obsessive, compulsive collector of all oddball tropical and desert plants.

  Helpful links  
Share on Facebook Share on Stumbleupon

[ Mail this article | Print this article ]

» Read articles about: Palms And Cycads, Tropicals, Zamias

» Read more articles written by Geoff Stein

« Check out our past articles!



Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Very helpful mango61 0 8 Jan 29, 2012 4:11 PM
growing indoors? stevelvv 0 9 May 26, 2010 7:04 PM
There is one in my collection Noturf 4 53 Sep 16, 2009 6:29 PM
I could fall in love w/ zamias vossner 2 27 Aug 22, 2009 4:39 AM
Fantastic article! edric 0 13 Aug 6, 2009 11:33 PM
Good Info & Pics Petalpants 0 16 Aug 5, 2009 3:59 PM
Propagation of Cycads? freebird_one 1 25 Aug 4, 2009 4:16 AM
Good Article phicks 0 14 Aug 3, 2009 4:40 PM
exotics LouC 0 15 Aug 3, 2009 3:14 PM
You cannot post until you login.


We recommend Firefox
Overwhelmed? There's a lot to see here. Try starting at our homepage.

[ Home | About | Advertise | Media Kit | Mission | Featured Companies | Submit an Article | Terms of Use | Tour | Rules | Privacy Policy | Contact Us ]

Back to the top

Copyright © 2000-2014 Dave's Garden, an Internet Brands company. All Rights Reserved.
 

Hope for America