The sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is a popular landscape plant. It's not actually a palm, but a cycad, which is an entirely different plant. Cycads, which are closely related to conifers and Ginkgo trees, are cone-bearing plants that are considered to be among the world's oldest vegetation. These plants, often referred to as living fossils, coexisted with dinosaurs during the ancient Mesozoic era. Sago palms have undergone little change in the past 200 million years.
Sago palms have dark olive-green leaves that are about 3 to 4 feet long, according to the Jungle Music website. The plant's rough and sturdy trunk is about 1 to 2 feet wide. Sago trunks may have multiple branches that produce several heads of leaves. Usually there are basal offsets known as suckers at the base of the plant's main trunk. While younger plants resemble a rosette of leaves that comes from a stem near the ground, older plants have a well-established trunk with overhead foliage. The plant produces bright red seeds that are about 1 1/2 inches wide.
Sago palms make ideal shrub borders or accent plants for patios. They're also used in rock or sand gardens, entryways, and serve as excellent potted plants. The sago is easy to grow. These plants can adapt to a wide range of temperature from 15 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Rhapis Gardens. The plant is low-maintenance, even thriving on minimum attention. Sago palms are also known for their longevity, with some living as long as 200 years and longer.
Sago palms grown indoors need to be near a sunny window. Just as other cycads, they can't tolerate excess water and the soil should dry out before watering. They also need plenty of room for roots to grow, so it's important to choose a container that is deep. Jungle Music recommends a pot that's 16 inches deep or more, although a smaller container is adequate when a plant is still small.
The sago palm is basically pest-free, but does sometimes encounter scales. Signs of the Asian cycad scale begin with chlorotic spots on leaves. Scales cover themselves in a waxy, white armor that eventually covers the entire plant, including its roots. Leaves under the scales become dry and then turn brown with the plant finally dying. These pests even infect new plant growth, causing deformity. Because even a clean plant can carry scales on its roots, controlling the insect can be difficult. Contact insecticides, which kill pests on contact, should be used on baby scales (crawlers) because mature scales are protected by their waxy coverings.
Although sago palms are popular plants, they're not good choices for pet owners. Sagos contain the chemical cycasin, which is highly toxic to dogs and cats as well as humans. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but it's the seeds that are the most toxic. Signs of poisoning from a sago palm include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, depression and liver failure.