The Long History of Cyads

Mar 1, 2018

Credit SC Public Radio

Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. Sago palms are actually cycads, which are grouped with gymnosperms like pine trees. They are among the oldest seed plants to evolve on our planet.   Cycad fossils date back to almost 300 million years ago and once flourished worldwide.  They were the dominant plant group during the Mesozoic; the period sometimes called both the age of the dinosaur and the age of the cycads.

This early success was due partially to their ability to reproduce by seed rather than spores. One reason these ancient plants may have survived is due to the neurologically toxic compounds they produce that restricted the use of this plant as a food by animals and ancient and modern peoples. Sago trunks and seeds are very high in starch content but also contain neuro-toxins. To be safely used for food, the material must be carefully processed to remove those dangerous compounds.