Despite its common name, the cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) is not a palm tree. Its name comes from its growth habit, which is similar to that of palms. Cardboard palms grow pinnate leaves (a leaf composed of many small leaflets on either side of a stem) much like a palm frond that you'd find on a lipstick palm. The leaflets are bright green and oval, and they have a slightly fuzzy feel similar to cardboard. The plant is generally shorter than it is wide, with a thick, partially subterranean trunk. It has a slow growth rate and is best planted in the spring. Outside of its tropical growing zones, it’s commonly kept as a houseplant. The plant is toxic to humans and pets.
|Common Name||Cardboard palm, cardboard plant, cardboard sago, cardboard cycad, Jamaican sago, Mexican cycad|
|Botanical Name||Zamia furfuracea|
|Mature Size||3–5 ft. tall, 4–6 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Central America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and pets|
Cardboard Palm Care
The key to growing cardboard palm plants successfully is to provide them with well-drained soil and give them lots of sunlight, especially during the growing season (spring to fall) and when the plant is young. Other than that, you’ll have to water whenever the soil dries out and feed your cardboard palm twice a year.
These plants don’t have major problems with pests or diseases. However, overwatering and allowing water to collect on the plant foliage can cause fungal diseases. So be sure only to water the soil around the base of the plant. Regular pruning is not necessary, but you can prune off dead, diseased, or damaged leaves as they arise.
Cardboard palms grow best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Indoors, place your plant by your brightest window, and be sure to rotate the pot regularly so all parts of the plant get an even amount of light. Otherwise, the cardboard palm will start to grow lopsided.
These plants can tolerate a variety of soil types as long as they have good drainage. A loose, sandy soil with a slightly acidic soil pH is best. Cardboard palms in containers will grow well in a potting mix made for cacti and palms.
Only a moderate amount of water is required for cardboard palms. And overwatering can cause the roots to rot. From the spring to fall, water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. But over the winter, reduce watering by about half of what you watered during the growing season.
Temperature and Humidity
Cardboard palms are fairly hardy plants. They can tolerate heat, but cold temperatures and frost can damage or kill them. They thrive in temperatures ranging from 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and they prefer low to average humidity levels.
Feed your plant twice a year with a slow-release palm fertilizer. One application should be at the beginning of the spring and the other at the start of autumn.
Types of Cardboard Palm
The cardboard palm is only one of more than 50 species within the Zamia genus. Most of these species grow in tropical environments, and many have palm-like features. Some Zamia species include:
- Zamia integrifolia: This species can be found in the Southeastern United States and features dark green leaves that extend around 4 feet from the trunk.
- Zamia pseudoparasitica: This species is epiphytic, meaning it generally grows on the surface of other plants.
- Zamia splendens: This species is known for its glossy reddish-brown leaves and has good shade tolerance.
- Zamia decumbens: This unusual species has trunks that run horizontally along the ground, rather than growing vertically.
Growing Cardboard Palm From Seeds
It can be difficult, but not impossible, to propagate cardboard palm from seeds. Propagation of this plant can't be done by cuttings. Commercial growers typically harvest the bright red seeds from cones produced by the female plant which are viable for a very short time. However, if you can verify that you have a female plant and can quickly harvest the seeds, take these steps and stay patient:
- Plant seeds as soon as you can in small seed starter pots filled with moistened sand.
- Place pots in a warm spot with moderate light. Make sure the temperature is above 65 degrees Fahrenheit or use a warming mat.
- When two sets of leaves have appeared and roots are strong (with a gentle tug), transfer the plant into a larger pot.
Potting and Repotting Cardboard Palms
Growing a cardboard palm from seed is especially difficult, so it’s recommended to select a nursery plant to pot. Pick a sturdy pot that’s slightly larger than your plant’s root ball, and plant the cardboard palm in quality potting mix. Make sure the pot has an ample amount of drainage holes.
This plant doesn’t like to have its roots disturbed, so only repot once the roots have outgrown the container and are poking out of it. This will typically occur every two to three years until the plant has reached its maximum size. Select one pot size up, gently remove the cardboard palm from its old container, and replant it in the new one with fresh potting mix at the same depth it was planted before.
This tough plant is most susceptible to spider mites and scale insects (most notably the red plant scale, an armored bug that mostly attacks citrus plants).
Common Problems With Cardboard Palm
It's tough to find an easier plant to grow and maintain. Inspect your majestic cardboard palm for the following issues.
The plant may be overwatered which turns leaves yellow. Or, the leaves are older and dying off. Simply prune the yellow leaves off with a sharp, sterile cutting tool.
The biggest problem you may see with a cardboard palm is brown leaves indicating root rot or crown rot. Rot is caused by overwatering. Too much watering is unnecessary because the plant's thick semi-succulent stem is like a tank that holds water. You may not be able to save a cardboard palm that experiences rot.
Brown leaves, however, may also indicate sun scorch because the plant was placed in a spot where it got too much sunlight.
Leaves Drooping and Wilting
Your plant is likely underwatered and dehydrated if it's drooping or wilting. If the pot feels lighter than you think it should, the roots and soil are very dry. Begin to salvage the plant by watering the soil slowly to moisten it and don't drown the roots.
How big do cardboard palms get?
This plant needs a lot of room to grow both indoors and outdoors because it can reach 5 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter. Fronds can grow 3 feet long, though all this growth can take years.
Are cardboard palms cold hardy?
These plants, if left outdoors, will sustain leaf damage at 28 degrees Fahrenheit.
Are cardboard palms easy to grow?
Cardboard palms are hardy plants, and they generally don’t require a great deal of care.
Sago Palm Tree. George Mason University.
Cardboard Palm. ASPCA.
Zamia furfuracea. Floridata.