Monday, February 1, 2010

The Venerable Cycad

No one plant in my gardening career has been so ubiquitously requested as the sago. Most people don't know the name of the plant, but they don't have to get far into the description for me to know what they are talking about. "The bottom is shaped like a pineapple..." "It has long leaves, and they grow in a circle..." "It is dark green..." "It looks like a miniature palm tree..." No matter how they describe it I can show a client a picture of a sago and they light up like wet pavement. Everyone who comes to Florida from Somewhere Else wants a sago in their landscape, so about 98% of the homes here have at least a couple.

Small wonder these tough plants have survived 250 million years here on planet Earth. They are hell to work around, with their sharply-tipped leaflets and their hard, equally sharp spines, but work around them we must. Otherwise, they become quite a mess, as they have in this landscape that I am trying to reclaim from the wild. Sagos are prolific producers of 'pups', those offsets that grow around the base of the trunk. Removing pups after they have a few years jump on you is HARD WORK!

Then there are the seedlings... Pictured here is a seedling, a pup that was about six inches in diameter, and a pup that was about four inches in diameter. There were seedlings around two of the sagos (of the five we have cleaned up so far). Though the plants are King sagos, they include male and female plants.

The females are seed-bearing, and the males produce a bizarre, extremely phallic-looking cone. There were hundreds of seeds to pick up, roughly one-third of which had sent down a root, or sent up a shoot, or both.

Some people can grow a wonderful looking sago by letting some pups remain, but that is an art and takes skillful attention as the plant develops. More often, we like to see the form of a single, mature plant.

Like I said, it is a lot of hard work, and sometimes it is better to have your helpers en route before you let them in on the plans for that day. Otherwise, mutinies have been known to occur.

I am saving this one for another day. This sago has developed several dominant heads and someone has cut all the fronds off one side of two of those heads, because it was planted too close to the driveway. "But they are so cute when they're little!" Like puppies, plants grow, and we have to plan for the mature size of any plant we put in the landscape, as well as any puppy we bring home. Most likely there will be no limbs left on this plant when I finish, and it will have to re-grow a head for the sake of uniformity.

I am now 32 man hours in to the reclamation of this landscape.
Depupping the sagos has made a big difference, but there are still still a few to go.
I am SO GLAD this qualifies as winter work. At least it is not hot weather!

1 comment:

Pam/Digging said...

Whew, that looks intense. I am not a sago fan, but they are very popular in Austin as well and do add a lot of winter greenery. Like the sago, a number of agaves will pup like crazy, creating an eternity of pulling amid dangerous spines. What we gardeners will put up with for beauty!