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July 5th, 2023

Zamia: Cardboard palm

by R.S. Walsh

Zamia (Zamia furfuracea) is a cycad, one of the most ancient of plant species. This particular cycad is native to parts of Mexico and Veracruz and has become a favorite in Florida. This plant grows very slowly and has leaves that radiate from a small central trunk. The zamia usually reaches a maximum height of 3-4 feet, but has a spreading growth pattern.

The leaves have a very clean, architectural look to them and they lend an almost structural element to the landscape. Planted as a focal point in a plant bed or in a container, the zamia adds an interesting look to our subtropical landscape. This plant is easy to grow, likes full sun and moist soil. It makes a great addition to a butterfly garden as certain butterfly species like to hide underneath the wide leaves to form their chrysalis.

Large seed pods develop on the female plant in the form of a rusty cone with large seeds that look like big kernels of corn. A word of caution, these plants are highly toxic if eaten by animals or people, and so they should be planted only in areas where pets or children won’t be tempted to ingest the seeds or other parts of the plant.

You might like to try one of these ancient cycads in your tropical landscape. They are good foil for the softer leaves of most tropical plants and stand up well in our island landscape. Take care and enjoy.

This plant column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, a Sanibel garden center, located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel, Florida.

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