Cycads are slow-growing plants that resemble palms. Cycads are often mistaken for palms, but they’re not closely related.
Cycads belong to a separate plant group called Gymnosperms. Gymnosperms are plants that have seeds, but not flowers.
Cycads can grow up to 23 feet (7 m) tall. Most have a stout stem topped with a crown of large compound leaves. Some species have unbranched woodlike trunks. Others have a trunk that is partially buried. Some Cycads can live as long as 1,000 years.
Cycad leaves are hard and stiff. At the end of its branches, cycads also develop a structure called a strobili—a cone.
Cycads are dioecious. This means a cycad plant is either male or female. Male cycads produce pollen. Female cycads produce seeds. Seeds grow like scales on the edges of the female strobili cones. Pollen is carried from the male plants by insects or on the wind to cones on female plants where the ovules in seeds are fertilized.
Male cones are slender and have more scales. Female cones are larger. Female cones can grow to more than 22 inches (55 cm) long. When seeds are ready to germinate, female cones open to allow pollen to enter.
Cycads are renowned for their survival in harsh conditions. They grow in tropical and subtropical regions as well as semi-desert ones. They can grow in sand and even rock. They can thrive in either sun or shade. Some even tolerate salt.
Cycads are native to South and Central America, Australia, the Pacific Islands, Japan, China, India, Madagascar, and southern and tropical Africa. The most common cycad found around the world today is Cycas revoluta, known as the Sago Palm. Sago Palms grow to about two feet (.6 m) tall.
Cycads used to be a lot more common. During the Jurassic Period, about 60 million years ago, cycads were extremely common. The Jurassic Period is sometimes even referred to as the “Age of Cycads.”
The scientific name for cycads is Cycadophyta.