With its striking, ornamental appearance the Zamia furfuracea, or Cardboard Palm, makes for a wonderful showpiece in any garden. In maturity the cardboard palm stem remains mostly subterranean, but the plant itself grow 4-5 feet tall with many dozen, long pinnate leaves covered in a dense array of thick, leathery leaflets. The leaflets are mostly oval, tapering near the ends into a lance-like shape. The overall appearance of this Cycad takes on a Jurassic appearance; one can almost image the thick leaflets as armored plates from a long extinct dinosaur.
The Cardboard palm is in the Cycad family, a group of ‘living fossil’ plants that first took root when actual dinosaurs roamed the earth. Fossils of this family of cycads – Zamia - dating back some 50 million years have been discovered in Central America. Today the Zamia family of Cycads is still endemic to Mexico and Central America, with the natural habitat of Zamia furfuracea located in the state of Veracruz, Mexico.
While the Zamia furfuracea might be called a Cardboard Palm, it has little in common with palms save for its common name, coloration, and a pinnate leaf structure.
Cycads are believed to be among the first plants to bear seeds. They evolved a fascinating and unique system of reproduction where pollen delivered to female cone structures becomes motile in the pollen tube, essentially coming to life and swimming to fertilize the egg. Unlike palms, the Cycads can have either above ground (aerial) or subterranean trunk structures. Subterranean trunks are pulled into the ground through a process of swelling and contracting roots. In addition to a subterranean system of roots, Cycads have a secondary root system that spreads out on or just under the surface to fix nitrogen into the soil. Cycads stems, much like a fern, form hard, woody rings. These are truly amazing and unique plants.
The Cardboard Palm enjoys the hot summers of inland California in well-drained soil but is also tolerant of salt air near or along the coast in full sun. Its native habitat includes areas on the Mexican coast. The Cardboard palm is also an excellent indoor decorative plant placed near a window with sun. With that said, these plants are not suited for indoor use near young children and no part should ever be eaten. Cycads contain lethal toxins that, if ingested, attack the central nervous system.