Cycad

CycadCycad — Cycads are a group of seed plants characterized by a large crown of compound leaves and a stout trunk. They are evergreen, gymnospermous, dioecious plants having large pinnately compound leaves. They are frequently confused with and mistaken for palms or ferns, but are related to neither, belonging to the division Cycadophyta.

Cycads are found across much of the subtropical and tropical parts of the world. They are found in South and Central America (where the greatest diversity occurs), Australia, the Pacific Islands, Japan, China, India, Madagascar, Vietnam, and southern and tropical Africa, where at least 65 species occur. Some are renowned for survival in harsh semi-desert climates, and can grow in sand or even on rock. They are able to grow in full sun or shade, and some are salt tolerant. Though they are a minor component of the plant kingdom today, during the Jurassic period they were extremely common. Sago flour is generally made from true palms – not from the cycad popularly known as “Sago Palm” (Cycas revoluta).

They have very specialized pollinators and have been reported to fix nitrogen in association with a cyanobacterium living in the roots. This blue-green algae produces a neurotoxin called BMAA that is found in the seeds of cycads.

The generic name refers to the starch obtained from the stems which was used as food by some indigenous tribes. Tribal people grind and soak the nuts to remove the nerve toxin, making the food source generally safe to eat, although often not all the toxin is removed. In addition, consumers of bush meat may face a health threat as the meat comes from game which may have eaten cycad nuts and carry traces of the toxin in body fat.

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