Zamia pseudoparasitica

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Figure 1. Z. pseudoparasitica leaf detail.


Conservation Status:

Near Threatened

Distribution & Habitat:

Coastal Panamian rainforest on the Atlantic side.


A real oddity this one, the only described epiphytic cycad (there is said to be another species in Ecuador, but it hasn't yet been officially described). It has 1-3m long pendant leaves, on an unbranched trunk.


Very uncommon in cultivation, however very abundant in its native habitat. The seeds turn orange upon maturity, and release a very pungent odour. It is thought that these are picked up and eaten by bats. The seeds then pass thru the bat, altho only those which are deposited on branchs grow, it is never found as a terrestrial plant. It is thought that those which land on the ground are quickly eaten by rats.

Figure 2. Z. pseudoparasitica in open wire basket.


Because these plants are epiphytic, they need a very different potting mix to normal Zamias. Here are couple of recipes which came from a discussion on the Cycad List in late January, 2000.

Mixes are an interesting thing and are usually tailored to the plant being grown and the PERSON GROWING the plant. It is about as easy to tell someone how much to water a plant as it is to tell them what kind of mix to use. Thus the vagaries (vagarity often sounds like condescention). There are a million variables not the least of which is how you tend your plants and what potting materials are available to you. Any plant can live out in pure air with no substrate around their roots as long as they receive the correct amount of food and water.

Using materials such as tree fern, charcoal, pumice, perlite etc. will maintain the necessary air pockets and will not break down. Materials such as ground or long fibred sphagnum moss, fir bark (orchid bark), peat moss chunks, etc. will hold the moisture you need.

My pseudos are planted in wooden slat baskets. The mix I use for my epiphytes is from the Atlanta Botanical Garden and they use it for their Nepenthes (asian pitcher plant) it drains instantly and has great water retention. 2 parts milled sphagnum
2 parts fir bark
2 parts shredded tree fern fibre
1 part charcoal
1 part peat
For larger pots and baskets I use parts of chunkier peat, larger sized charcoal and fir bark.

Note there is no nutrition in this mix. But that is ok for nepenthes and cycads. You can always feed. The important thing is you find a mix that will hold the plant in position and keep moisture and air around the roots. ANY material can be used that is not toxic to the plant. Some materials I have seen include styrafoam packing, peanut shells, cork, wine corks, shredded tires, cypress chips, redwood fibre, coconut fibre, various plastic and foam pieces etc. It is important that the mix fits you and the plant.

Neil Carroll

Figure 3. Z. pseudoparasitica in cultivation.

I have had good success with Zamia pseudoparasitica. What I found to be true was what I had always heard was true. "Grow them in a basket!" I ignored that advice at first and used standard pots with less than stellar results. In the basket, they flourished. However, the other key is to use the right mix. I take my regular cycad mix and supplement it with an equal amount of shredded course sphagnum moss with some chunky redwood bark and perlite. I mix it up like a salad. Then I pot the plant into this mix. I use a metal basket with sphagnum moss holding in the mix at the perimeter of the basket. You should see results. They are flourishing! Also, remember that Z. pseudoparasitica will tolerate some cold but not a freeze. Good luck.

Phil Bergman, Jungle Music Palms and Cycads San Diego, California

Figure 4. Z. pseudoparasitica female cones.

Always repot your Z. pseudoparasitica on a regular basis, because the mix will break down over time, and it can lose the free draining and well aerated properties that the plants require. This can result in the plant growing happily for several years, and then suddenly dying for no apparant reason. Also be very carefull when repotting, as this species roots are easily damaged, and seem to rot more easily than othe Zamias, again causing plant loss.

Figure 5. Z. pseudoparasitica in habitat, Panama. Note the abundance of epiphytic plants.

Contributed by:

Clayton York Utopia Palms & Cycads (Figure 3&4)
Rolf Kyburz (Figure 5)

External Links:

Cycad Pages, IUCN, JSTOR, Trebrown

Google, Google Images, Flickr, PACSOA Forums