Cycad (Cycas clivicola)

Cycas clivicola on limestone cliff edge
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Cycad fact file

Cycad description

GenusCycas (1)

Cycads have large, divided leaves and resemble palms and tree ferns superficially. This cycad species (Cycas clivicola) has a tall, narrow trunk with very long, slightly glossy leaves varying in colour with age from grey-green when young to bright green once mature. The large pollen cones vary from yellow through green to brown. There are two subspecies of this cycad that differ in appearance. Cycas clivicola clivicola has a smooth, grey trunk and relatively small pollen cones, whereas Cycas clivicola lutea has a smooth, yellow trunk and larger pollen cones (2).

Height: up to 8 m (2)
Leaf length: 70 – 165 cm (2)
Pollen cone length: 25 – 50 cm (2)

Cycad biology

Cycads are dioecious, with separate male and female individuals. Large seeds with a fleshy coating and a hard centre are produced on the leaves. These are dispersed to nearby soil by birds, rodents and fruit bats, where they must germinate quickly to survive. If conditions are not suitable for germination, the seeds cannot lie dormant, and so will perish. Cycads are long-lived, slow-growing, and have a low reproductive rate. Their roots contain cyanobacteria that exist in a symbiotic relationship with the plant, and provide it with further nutrients by converting (fixing) atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form. The roots are also retractable for protection against drought and fire (2).


Cycad range

This cycad is found in Malaysia and southern Thailand (4).


Cycad habitat

As indicated by the Latin name of this species, ‘clivicola’, it is a cliff-dweller. It grows in the crevices of limestone outcrops, in full sun (2).


Cycad status

This cycad is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Cycad threats

In some areas this cycad species is threatened by over-collection, but in general it is widespread and abundant (2).


Cycad conservation

Cycad conservation is important to many sectors. They are an important group in horticulture, as well as being an ancient plant taxon. They contribute to the health and fertility of soil through their relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria, and they are of interest to the pharmaceutical industry due to unique compounds contained within them (2). There is no targeted conservation action for this species.


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A group of bacteria that are able to photosynthesise and contain the pigment chlorophyll. They used to be known as ‘blue-green algae’. They are thought to have been the first organisms to produce oxygen; fossil cyanobacteria have been found in 3000 million year old rocks. As they are responsible for the oxygen in the atmosphere they have played an essential role in influencing the course of evolution on this planet.
Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.
The beginning of growth, usually following a period of dormancy and in response to favourable conditions. For example, the sprouting of a seedling from a seed.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Symbiotic relationship
Relationship in which two organisms form a close association, the term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney – The Cycad Pages (May, 2005)
  3. CITES (September, 2008)
  4. Palm and Cycad Societies of Australia (May, 2005)

Image credit

Cycas clivicola on limestone cliff edge  
Cycas clivicola on limestone cliff edge

© Fletcher & Baylis

Wildside Photography


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