I was too busy adapting myself, learning how to forge for food from our only two small grocery stores, neither of which had consistent working refrigerators. I liked plants but, as interests go, they weren’t high on my list, until I met my husband, a true plant enthusiast.
He was born with an innate passion for plants, animals, birds and people, more or less in that order. With the patience of a parent teaching his child how to ride a bike, he opened up the plant world for me. A world with stories filled with greed, robberies, fighting and even murder, but ultimately survival. I can’t ever again look at a plant without noticing its unique characteristics and think about its amazing will to survive. I’d like to show off some of my newfound knowledge and share with you the awe-inspiring history of just two of the many plant varieties we are lucky enough to have here in Cabo.
The Wodyetia bifurcata is the only palm in existence with cylindrical leaves creating a “fox-tail” look. It wasn’t known to botanists until 1983, when an Aboriginal bushman by the name of Wodyeti identified this palm in a very remote area of Queensland, Australia. It was named in his honor. We, non-botanist types, call it by its common name, foxtail palm. It wasn’t introduced legally to the nursery / growers until 1995. Before that, seeds were smuggled illegally out of Australia. Some collectors will go to any lengths to acquire rare items and the story goes that several smugglers lost their lives in the act. The foxtail palm learned to survive by putting down a deep root system, which allowed it to withstand great variance in rainfall and temperature. Their seeds are poisonous, animals won’t eat them, and maybe they have a scent we’re not aware of because insects don’t like to bore into them either.
Have you heard of Sago palms, the common name for one of the 300 species of the cycad family? Until a few years ago, all I knew about them was that if I bumped into one, it pricked me, not like a cactus spine but rather like a pine needle. And, guess what, they’re not palms at all, they’re more closely related to the evergreen family; the reproductive cone the male cycad produces is evidence of this. They do have a palm look with their fern like leaves and woody trunk.
Cycads have been around for more than 200 million years, way before the existence of palms. Talk about survival. They are the most primitive of seed-bearing plants, living fossils. The seeds can take up to 20 months to mature, similar to an elephant’s gestation period. Cycads were food to the mammoth, a close relative of the elephant. Dinosaurs found the cycad tasty too. The cycad learned to adapt and flourish. There are king and queen Sago palms: Cyca revoluta and Cyca circinalis. Both are
easy to grow and are used as specimen plants by landscapers. Once you meet a cycad, you’ll never forget what it looks like.
With every plant story I’m treated to, my respect grows for them and they give me hope. Knowing how the palms and cycads have managed to thrive for millions of years, I have to believe our legacy isn’t to be the catalyst for their extinction.
By Christine Wenzel