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Cycad the ultimate survivor
Cycads. Picture: Guru Productions

If ever there was a plant you could place in your garden with a view to it being an investment, it is without doubt the cycad family, one of the most ancient of all plant groups on the planet.

They are the ultimate survivor and make a great addition to any style of garden.

Planting and varieties

It’s their stunning structure that makes cycads so valuable in a landscape and they just get better with age.

They can also be grown successfully in a pot and look fantastic potted, with some varieties even seeming to perform better as they like their roots being constricted to a small space.

Cycads are hardy plants capable of withstanding challenging garden situations. Most varieties are suitable for a full sun position but some, like Peroffsky’s Zamia (Lepidozamia peroffskyana), a variety from south-eastern Queensland and northern New South Wales, would be happier here in Perth in a shady position which is not dissimilar to its home environment where it is commonly found as an under-canopy plant in eucalypt rainforests.

One variety from Mexico that is almost indestructible is the cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea), which has a bluish foliage that instead of being frond-like in shape is leaflets that are much like cardboard in texture.

Another I just love is the Dioon, a stunning foliage feature plant, with the variety edule being the best I’ve seen in Perth. It has bluish foliage and is known as the Chestnut Dioon in its native Mexico. It eventually grows beautiful trunks that branch and look amazing.

Where to buy

There’s a huge choice of varieties grown, although obtaining them may be a challenge as you’re more likely to find them from collectors than garden centres. The Palm and Cycad Society of WA is one organisation that may be able to help you source different varieties to build a collection. Our local Macrozamia varieties are being salvaged from land clearance and transplanted with some success and specialist plant recyclers such as Grasstrees WA can supply mature plants, some with trunks, delivered to your house and installed. This genus used as a verge plant is spectacular and incredibly hardy.

There are also some stunning varieties originating from South Africa and while not commonly available, they can be sourced locally through specialists.

The prickly foliage of the Encephalartos paucidentatus or the Barberton Cycad is spectacular from a distance and the plant itself would be one of the most architectural of all, with large deep green frond-like foliage. I have a couple of these in my garden and often find myself stopping to admire them. As they mature, they have the most incredible cones which make another terrific feature.

A growing investment

The investment angle in adding one of these stunning plants to the garden is an interesting one.

The most common cycad sold in garden centres is the Japanese sago palm, Cycas revoluta, a gorgeous plant that retails for around $30 for a 150mm pot. They are relatively slow-growing, producing flushes of foliage about twice a year and eventually growing a trunk which can be as tall as 2.5m and even be branched. A mature plant of this size could be over 100 years old and cost between $2000-$5000.

I’m sure you’re not willing to wait 100 years but it would be reasonable to suggest that a five-year-old plant well established in a pot with a 30cm trunk developed would easily fetch $200, a 10-year-old plant $500-$1000. In Japan mature plants sell for as much as $20,000 and are placed in prominent positions to reflect their importance in the landscape.

So collecting these beauties is not just an investment in your garden’s beauty, it’s a sound long-term investment as mature plants are sought after by garden lovers and landscapers.