Sunday, October 19, 2003

Cycads a favourite of landscapists
Satish Narula

Referred to as the cycas palms by gardeners, the cycads are not even distantly related to the palms
Referred to as the cycas palms by gardeners, the cycads are not even distantly related to the palms

CYCADS are rated as a favourite plant of landscape designers. When it comes to choosing plants that fit in well in almost all locations, cycads fill the slot. Hardy that they are, they have seen the age of dinosaurs, are called the 'living fossils' and are still going strong.

Generally referred to as the cycas palms by the gardeners, the cycads are not even distantly related to palms. But due to their appearance, the stem structure, whorls of leaves etc, these are bracketed with the palms. The plants are a favourite with landscapists as they suit almost all locations. On the rockeries, they blend well with the agave species plants and in shaded gardens, they merge well with their ancestors, the ferns. In fact, the newly emerging leaves are delicate and relish shady or semi-shade conditions. Near the water bodies too a pair of cycas give their best. In the garden, even a single specimen plant makes a complete feature. Don't be surprised if I say it fits well in the company of cacti as their requirements match. They do equally well both in the ground and in a pot.

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The cycads are valued for their shining leaves. The leaves are permanent and last for years together. It is because of the comb-like fronds, the leaves, that the plant is also called the kangi palm mostly by gardeners and laymen. The most famous plant of this species is the cycas revoluta (see the accompanying picture). The plant has very slow growth and with time the size of the leaves goes on increasing. A time comes when the plant attains a shape exactly like that of a dish antenna. There also appears a cauliflower-like structure in the middle of the whorls of leaves and the plant is at its best at this stage.

Cycads do well in pots too. They are rather more happy in pot-bound conditions. As they are slow growers they may live in a pot without disturbance for years together. The selection of the pot should therefore be done keeping in view the long life and majestic appearance of the plant. The soil mixture has to be the usual with a tendency towards a sandy texture. This is to ensure effective drainage. Cycads do not tolerate stagnant water and may rot. Even while planting these in the ground, care should be taken to select a site which is a shade higher than the rest of the garden.

The cycads are hardy and take care of themselves. But at times they are attacked by scales and bugs. As the plant is valued for its foliage, any damage caused to otherwise long-living leaves is permanent. In case of appearance of such insects, the leaves could be washed with a brush dipped in rogor solution or with the help of a cotton swab saturated with spirit. Later on, the leaves could be washed with a jet of water. In case of severe attack, apply Thimet 10-G granules in the soil around the plant. These can be added at 10 gram for each year in the total age of the plant. After adding the granules mix these well with the upper soil and give irrigation. Do not touch the granules with bare hands.

In case of matured plants, when the stem is about one foot or so high, there appear bulb-like structures at the side of the stems. These, in fact, are the offsprings. These could be separated from the mother plant and planted in the usual pot mixture and kept in the shade. They strike roots and become independent plants.