Rescuing a Rotting Cycad
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 home.to 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.