- Author: Launa Herrmann
Posing center stage in my daughter's front yard in Vacaville is a large plant with frond-like leaves. The main attraction of this sago palm (Cycas revoluta) was its shiny dark green foliage. The sago palm is actually a cycad. True cycads comprise approximately 185 species in three families — Cycadaceae, Stangeriaceae and Zamiaceae. Cycas revoluta is the only genus recognized in the Cycadaceae family. Also called a living fossil, cycads stood their ground against the dinosaurs of the Mesozoic era and have remained unchanged through millions of years.
The stiff, narrow, feather-like leaves of sago palms are often used in funeral wreaths or floral arrangements. They remain green long after cutting. Its Latin name revolta means “curled back,” a specific reference to the leaves which grow outward in a circular pattern with new leaves emerging all at once periodically. As a sago palm grows, it naturally loses fronds that first turn yellow, then fade to light brown before dying back. This heat-tolerant plant can withstand temperatures up to 110 degrees.
Unfortunately, a combination of full sun, dry soil and this summer's continuous heat wave took its toll on this particular sago. As my daughter waits to see if new fronds will eventually emerge, the living fossil has become a convenient canopy offering shelter and shade for neighborhood cats.