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. 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.
|Botanical Name||Zamia furfuracea|
|Common Names||Cardboard palm, cardboard plant, cardboard sago, cardboard cycad, Jamaican sago, Mexican cycad|
|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 animals|
Cardboard Palm Care
Cardboard palms are hardy plants, and they generally don’t require a great deal of care. The key to growing them 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.
Is the Cardboard Palm Toxic?
All parts of this plant, including its seeds, are highly toxic to both people and animals when ingested. So it is best kept away from kids and pets. Just a couple seeds can be a fatal dose, especially in children and small animals.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Symptoms of toxicity in both people and animals include dehydration, increased thirst, vomiting (possibly with blood), diarrhea, dark stools, jaundice, bruising, paralysis, and liver and kidney failure. Contact a medical professional as soon as possible if you suspect poisoning.
Potting and Repotting Cardboard Palms
Growing cardboard palms from seed is especially difficult, so it’s recommended to select a nursery plant to pot. Pick a sturdy pot with ample drainage holes that’s slightly larger than your plant’s root ball, and plant the cardboard palm in quality potting mix.
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.
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.