Ideas and Information for Home Gardeners.
Cycads can be used virtually anywhere. They look fabulous in large pots either side of a doorway, do well as feature plants in a dry land garden design, fit well into the smallest garden or balcony, and look spectacular as mass plantings in feature beds, flanking driveways, gates and doorways.
Cycads have a long history in gardens in several parts of Asia. Chinese and Japanese cultures value them highly as symbols (as indeed every feature of the oriental garden is symbolic of more than meets the eye).
Cycads in China are symbols of longevity, as evidenced by the widely used vernacular name of Feng Wei Cao (Phoenix tail grass) or Feng Wei Jaio (Phoenix tail palm), an allusion to the mythical phoenix, a legendary creature said to be reborn eternally from the flames of its funeral pyre. Taoist temples traditionally feature 4 plants - a white Camellia, a red Camellia, a Ginkgo and a Cycad.
Cycas are the favoured species and most frequently seen, although local cycads also have been used in many places. A plant of C. taiwaniana said to be 800 years old (and looking weather-beaten enough to really be that old) is now regarded as a national treasure in the Fen An Shi temple in Pu Meng in eastern Guangxi province. The species C. szechuanensis was described from plants cultivated in the Emei Shan temple in Sichuan province. This plant - a female - has been widely propagated from offsets, and passed around temples and gardens in several parts of southern China. All known plants are consequently female.
Ornamental Cycads in Japanese gardens are often equally old, and examples said to be more than 1000 years old are known. One such is the Tree of Ryukyu Islands (a plant of Cycas revoluta), a national treasure now featured on a postage stamp.
Modern practice in Asia often echoes the old. Almost any large institution will feature a matching pair of large feature plants of Cycas revoluta flanking the main entrance doorway. The dwarf species of southern China and northern Vietnam are immensely popular as Bonsai plants in their native regions, but (perhaps fortunately for their conservation) little-known outside these regions. Many city-dwellers in these regions have only small courtyards or balconies, and these dwarf species are ideal in such situations. Private Asian gardens are frequently composed of collections of potted often Bonsai-style plants, and small cycads are again ideal and popular.
European gardens have not such long history of tradition and symbolism, and trends in garden design have fluttered through the ages to the fickle whims of fashion. Favoured plants have similarly fallen in and out of style. Europeans were not acquainted with the cycads until the waves of colonial expansion of the 18th Century brought floods of novelties from all corners of the world. Among so much novelty, the cycads never really stood out, and have attracted the interests of only a few collectors over the years. Interests have varied from country to country, but cycads were seldom seen as major garden features or landscape subjects. This is now changing around the world as cycads can and do make outstanding gardens and landscape plants in the right situations, Cycads, being Waterwise Drought Hardy plants are now in demand worldwide because of their low water demand when established. What better experience than to have the privelige of growing a Living Fossil Cycad that has existed from before the Dinosaurs and will live for hundreds of years. With so many arid-zone species to choose from, Cycads are ideal plants to include as part of new, sustainable landscapes.
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