Cycad (Zamia furfuracea)

First flush of new leaves on Zamia furfuracea in botanical gardens
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Cycad fact file

Cycad description

GenusZamia (1)

Zamia furfuracea is a member of the cycad family, one of the world’s oldest plant groups, evolving 300 million years ago. Today, only around 300 cycad species remain, and many are threatened by overexploitation for horticulture and habitat loss (5) (6). Zamia furfuracea grows in a large rosette shape, with clumps of tightly overlapping leaves emerging from a thick, fleshy trunk. Owing to rigid, cardboard-like leaves and a resemblance to the visually similar, but otherwise unrelated palms, this cycad is often referred to as the cardboard palm. In common with other cycads, Zamia furfuracea does not flower, instead producing a dark brown, hard cone that splits to reveal tightly packed, striking red seeds when ripe (7)

Also known as
cardboard cycad, cardboard palm, cardboard plant.
Height: 0.6 – 1.5 m (2)
Leaf length: 10 – 20 cm (2)
Cone length: 7 – 15 cm (2)
Maximum trunk diameter: 20 cm (3)

Cycad biology

Evolving long before flowering plants, cycads developed a unique method of reproduction. Lacking flowers, pollen and ovules instead develop inside a reproductive cone on separate male and female plants (8). Pollen is transferred between mature plants by the wind, or inadvertently transferred by a variety of insects, such as beetles and weevils, attracted by powerful odours emitted from the plant (8) (9). Assuming pollen reaches receptive ovules on female plants, pollination occurs, and several months later fertilisation takes place. Subsequently, the female cones expand, becoming elongate and often brightly coloured. Seeds begin to develop inside the cone, and are typically consumed by a variety of animals, including birds, rodents and bats, when ripe. A fleshy outer layer around the seed is eaten, but the actual seed is left intact, and subsequently dispersed in their scats. As they are vulnerable to desiccation, few young plants survive to maturity, but in favourable conditions older plants may live for several decades (3) (8)


Cycad range

Zamia furfuracea is restricted to just a single location in Veracruz state, southeastern Mexico (3)


Cycad habitat

Zamia furfuracea grows amongst arid thorny scrub on sandy soils or on limestone cliffs from sea level to 200 metres (3).


Cycad status

This cycad is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Cycad threats

Cycads are one of the world’s most threatened groups of plants, with a shocking 53 percent of cycad species threatened with extinction (10)Zamia furfuracea has suffered dramatic declines and now only exists in relic populations with a very small range (1) (5). Zamia furfuracea has suffered from a history of unsustainable collection, primarily because it is easy to grow in horticulture as it tolerates a wide range of environments, and is seen as an attractive houseplant (7). The affect of this exploitation is often compounded by the loss of its habitat to coffee plantations and urban encroachment (10).


Cycad conservation

Highly vulnerable to human-induced disturbance, it has been recognised that conservation measures are required to ensure the persistence of Zamia furfuracea populations. Consequently, nurseries of Zamia furfuracea have been created in Veracruz, allowing local communities to sell this cycad sustainably, whilst improving its long-term survival prospects (5). Zamia furfuracea is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), strictly regulating the plant’s import and export across international borders (4). However, further research on the impact of trade on wild populations is required, while ex-situ conservation methods need to be explored (5)


Find out more

For more information on cycad conservation: 



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Measures to conserve a species that occur outside of the natural range of the species. For example, in zoos or botanical gardens.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
A structure within the female reproductive organs of plants that contains eggs and when fertilized by pollen, develops into seeds.
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services Fact Sheet (February, 2010)
  3. The Cycad Pages (February, 2010)
  4. CITES (February, 2010)
  5. Donaldson, J.S (2003) Cycads. Status Survey and Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cycad Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  6. The Cycad Society (February, 2010)
  7. Floridata (February, 2010)
  8. RoyalBotanic Gardens, Kew (February, 2010)
  9. Whitelock, L.M. (2002) The Cycads. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  10. BBC – Extinction Threat to Ancient Plant Group (February, 2010)

Image credit

First flush of new leaves on Zamia furfuracea in botanical gardens  
First flush of new leaves on Zamia furfuracea in botanical gardens

© Peter Richardson

Peter Richardson


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