Another cycad with ferny leaves

In 1996, among limestone bourlders on slopes and cliffs near the city of Debao, in County Debao, part of the Guangxi Province in China, a new cycad was discovered. Cycas debaoensis is one of only two cycads with multi-pinnate leaves.

That is, like some ferns, the leaves (or fronds) are like a feather with each side leaflet divided, and possibly again. Up to four times in this species. I posted in February on a fern-like cycad called Stangeria eriopis which has only the first rank of divisions and I gather my species from Debao is in part of the Cycas genus called Section Stangerioides, alluding to the similarity with that genus of one species.

Anyway, it might be easier to just look at my pictures, which actually show leaves that look more palm than fern-like.

This is a rare thing on Earth. There are only a couple of known populations; at first it was thought there was just one. While relatively secure a few years after its discovery - a survey found 2000 healthy plants with none removed by collectors - it's future has always been uncertain.

Even at the time of discovery, most of the other shrubs and trees had been removed from the original site. Now their are fewer cycads as well, due to continuing loss of habitat and the arrival of unscrupulous cycad enthusiasts.

By whatever means, the species is now available in horticulture, with plants (I assume/hope) sourced from cultivated seed. It is much sought after for its unusual foilage, and, because it is rare in nature.

This one is in the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou, not far from Hong Kong.

It's a single, female plant and you can see some detail of the female cones here, with seeds, and the leafy extension of the 'megasporophyll' (the leaf-like structure bearing megaspores, the fertile part).

While cycads are often called 'dinosaur plants' (not to be confused with Wollemia nobilis, the Dinasaur Tree...), recent research has 'debunked' the lovely idea that the creature in the next picture - the one on the left - crashed around in a forest packed full of cycads the same as what we see today.

The cycad species we co-exist with now have all evolved in the last 10 million years, some 55 million years after the last dinosaur died (apart from the lineage that evolved into the birds).

There were cycad relatives on Earth with dinosaurs, but not as we know them now. As to the human in the picture, we all know it's a plant (in a sense).


DrFUsays said…
Very interesting post Tim. I love the photo with the dinosaur - I can't decide whether you're shielding yourself from the ravenous beast, or whether you're trying to hypnotise it a la Crocodile Dundee and the water buffalo?
Talking Plants said…
Not quite sure myself. I was told by the person taking the picture I looked like I was proposing to the dinosaur... BTW, we have this species now in our Southern China Collection, in Melbourne Gardens. Which is nice.