Rescuing a Rotting Cycad

xerophyte_nyc(7)April 25, 2013

About a month ago when I was examining my dormant plants, I realized something bad was happening to my Encephalartos whitelockii. Last fall after Hurricane Sandy ripped through my town, I had most of my collection outside pretty much unprotected. The wind and rain did little if any real damage to the plants. But a freakish snowfall and cold snap 2 days later was bad news. Since I was without power for 11 days, I wasn't even bring the exposed plants indoors. Instead they were left out to contend with below freezing temps and wet soil for many days.

The E. whitelockii suffered freeze damaged leaves, which is not a big deal actually since a new flush will renew the plant. All my other cycads looked as if nothing happened.

I left the E. whitelockii with damaged leaves in the garage. Last month I went to prune off the damaged foliage and saw that rot had spread through the leaves and into the crown. With a spoon I scooped out gross decay mainly from the base of the caudex. I repositioned the plant into my living room where the warmer room temps will help it recover.

A few weeks later, I inspected a little more and scooped out more decaying plant matter. I added a heating cable, and one scale/ cataphyll at a time I removed them as they were all rotting at the point where they connect to the caudex. By the time I was through there was almost nothing left but a small area at the meristem, and a few intact cataphylls. I drenched in Daconil, and rigged up a heated area in the garage where temps are consistently in the 85-95F range.

I'm trying to locate a recent photo of the plant in leaf, but it had about 5-6 ft leaves and a caudex about 7-8 inches wide. Here it is after most of the scales were removed. What you are looking at is the internal growth point/ apical meristem.:

Here is a shot from further back, to give you a sense of depth. The pot is about 20" in diameter.

After I exposed this growth point, which normally is protected from desiccation, the fragile tissue dehydrated and turned brown within a few days. A week later of heat, and what I notice is that the tissue is starting to turn a faint green color and it looks to be thickening in the middle. I am optimistic that I have done enough to prematurely stimulate some meristematic cell division which will lead to leaf formation.

If the plant makes a comeback, it will be fascinating to watch a cycad flush develop from its earliest stages. Normally what we see is old leaves bending back as the caudex expands and the soft primordial leaves push through and expand. Here I may be able to capture it from a never before seen (at least by me) vantage point.

There is no more rot as far as I can tell. All exposed tissue has scarified and turned brown. The rootzone should be healthy, with enough starch to push new growth. I haven't watered yet - no leaves, so no water demand. As things slowly progress I might hit the plant with a dose of nitrogen.


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Here are some photos I found from 2010 showing the E. whitelockii:

To the left is Macrozamia moorei, to the right is the E. whitelockii

Here is a close-up of the very hairy and thick new leaves as they begin to flush

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 7:30PM
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Wow, it was a beautiful cycad, sorry to hear that it got damaged by the storm. Most of the damage from that snow storm for me was from the weight of the snow on the tropicals since the really tender stuff was inside at that point.
I hope it makes a nice comeback, looking forward to seeing it flush out!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 10:44PM
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You've done pretty well all you can do, except wait. Lucky you decided to trim it and found the rot. Don't know too much about Encephalartos but Cycas often put out a number of shoots lower down on the caudex when there's been severe damage up top. Good luck with it.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 11:53PM
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sagolover(10a SoCal)

Beautiful cycads you have/had. Whitelockii deserved all your effort to try and save it. I sincerely hope it will make it and you will have it big and beautiful again. Please post more pics with its healing.

Do you also have other cycads? Can you post more pics of them? This forum is for cycads too but usually only palms posts can be found.

I got a few cycads as an advanced birthday present and I am in love with them. I absolutely wanted and got and love E. Ituriensis, E. Concinnus and E. Manikensis. I got as freebies from the grower C. Thouarsii and a Z. floridiana which I did not want but received from those nice people. I hope they will do at least well if not thrive with us here. :)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 1:59AM
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@ tropicalzone7, @ tropicbreezent: I will continue adding photos to this thread, thank you for the encouragement. E. whitelocki grows massive leaves from a single caudex, it is not like Cycas. I doubt that multiple shoots will form but who knows?

@ sagolover, I also have in my collection:

Cycas rumphii, a big one
Cycas revoluta, of course
Dioon mejiae
Encephalartos horridus 'hewson'
E. horridus 'dwarf' clone
E. altensteinii
E. arenarius 'blue'
E. longifolius 'joubertina'
Macrozamia moorei

I have had seedlings of others over the years, but they are so slow and weak that they are not worth it for me.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 7:17AM
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Good luck!

Such a great yard!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 11:10AM
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sagolover(10a SoCal)

They are gorgeous, xerophyte. Your Horriduses look way better than more I've seen. I also love your Macrozamia. I was thinking about getting a Riedlei but I don't have too much room for now.
Can you please identify each of your cycads in the pictures? I'm far of being a savvy cycad lover/collector.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 3:52PM
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SagoLover, photos are: E horridus, E horridus, C rumphii, C revoluta, M moorei, E horridus, E altensteinii, E longifolius (?), E altensteinii, E arenarius

Re: rotting cycad, my optimism has turned into pessimism. There is lots more rot down the side. Heat is a double edged sword - it's good for plants, but also good for fungus.

I will scoop out more rot, remove the entire caudex with it's fleshy tubers, and will repot into a smaller container filled with pure perlite. I have read about an E whitelockii rotting all the way down to the roots and the plant was similarly treated, then 4 years later it sent out some new growth. You never know.

I will likely replace this plant with a new one. Moral of the story: inspect your plants carefully if they are sitting dormant somewhere.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 8:13AM
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