The sago palm may look like a tiny palm tree with its glossy, stiff fronds, but it is not a palm tree at all. Sago palms are cycads, one of the most ancient of plants that has been around since prehistoric times. As a houseplant, it is easy to grow indoors, but be very careful because the sago palm is poisonous.
With the ability to live for hundreds of years, the sago palm makes a rugged houseplant. It is extremely slow-growing, sometimes putting out just one set of new leaves per year—or sometimes not that often. When plants do put out new growth, it is generally borne in one symmetrical ring of leaves that emerges from the tip in an attractive bronze color. New leaves are quite soft when they emerge, but as they expand and age, they take on their signature stiffness.
The way these plants reproduce is another relic of their prehistoric pasts. Unlike many plants, they do not flower but create large, cone-like structures instead. Each plant may be female or male, and the cones are borne on each plant. It can take 15 years or more for a plant to produce cones. In order to pollinate, both a male and female plant is needed nearby.
Sago Palm Care Must-Knows
Sago palms are tropical plants often grown as houseplants because indoor climates typically resemble the warm climates they are used to. Sago palms do well in containers because they like well-drained soil. One of the surest ways to kill a sago palm is to overwater it. Although they don't like being overly moist, they do appreciate consistent moisture and humidity. If they are allowed to dry out too often, the tips of the foliage may become brown and have some dieback.
Sago palms appreciate bright, indirect light but can burn in too much direct sun in the summer. This makes them a perfect plant for a sunny windowsill in a house setting. They also make great container plants outdoors as long as some shelter from direct sun is provided. While they can take some shade, too much shade ups the risk of rot and causes plants to have sparser foliage. Sago palms also appreciate humidity, so if plants seem to struggle indoors, try placing them over a humidity tray to create a more amenable environment.
Sago palms are generally low-maintenance and pest-free, but a common issue is scale, a problematic insect that feeds on the leaves. Scale are white or brown and generally do not move. Scale can be tricky to control as they have a hard, waxy coating that protects them from most insecticide sprays. The best way to control scale is with a systemic insecticide. Leaves of sago palm are also susceptible to fungal rot, which shows up as brown spots on the leaves. While this will not kill your plant, it is not exactly a good look. Removing affected foliage is the best way to eliminate the fungus.
More Varieties of Sago Palm
Cycas rumphii is more treelike than king sago palm. It grows 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide with a swollen trunk 18 inches in diameter. Male plants may form side branches on the upper trunk or from the base. It is less hardy than king sago, growing in Zones 9-11.