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Cycads: Life in the Slow Lane

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Gardening is an endeavor that can teach us many things about life. Surely one of the obvious lessons is patience: patience to make garden designs become a reality, patience to nurture plants and watch them thrive. Patience is needed when setbacks occur from pests or disease or truly damaging weather events like cold snaps or hurricanes. Unless our gardens are composed of annuals that quickly cycle through blooming and replacement, we learn patience from watching our plants grow in time into beautiful specimens.


Cycads, seed-bearing plants that are frequently mistaken for palms or ferns, are perhaps the ultimate slowpokes in our gardens. They are members of three very closely related families whose nearest relatives are conifers, such as pines, and the Ginkgo, an ancient tree species widely planted in northern landscapes. In books and films, cycads are popularly portrayed as primitive plants that were grazed upon by dinosaurs. The origins of the cycads reach far back in geologic time to…