National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity
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Home - Species - Concepts - The extended family - Plants - Cycads

How are they?
They can be tree-like and reach up to 10 m tall or also of small size. They have thick stems with no branches and large compound leaves with pinnae. Their seeds are found inside large brightly colored cones known as strobili.

How do they live?
They are slow-growing plants that can live for over 2000 years. They are dioecious, i.e., the male and female reproductive organs are located on separate individuals of the same species. Unlike other plants with no flowers, cycads are pollinated by primitive beetles.

They have high toxicity and few predators. However, it appears that some of them were dispersed by dinosaurs, who ate the seed covers. At present, several species of birds, rodents and marsupials feed on and disperse seeds. Their roots, which can be collapsed in response to drought and fire, contain symbiotic cyanobacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen.

How do we use them?
Seeds of cycads have been used as food to supplement the diet of people in times of scarcity. The seeds can be used to prepare flour which can be stored.

Paradoxically, they have also been used as insecticide or poison for vermin control. Currently, their main use is as an ornamental plant due to their aesthetic appeal. In Mexico, the leaves of some cycads are used to decorate churches during religious festivals.

How can you help?
Many species of cycads are extracted from their natural habitats by collectors and plant traders. Many of the plants sold in the street do not survive because they are only the tips of the stems and do not develop roots. Do not buy cycads of unknown origin. In Chiapas and Veracruz cycads are produced commercially in nurseries.