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Cardboard Palm

Cardboard palm plant is one of those ancient plants with a lot of character that can grow inside or outside. The cardboard palm plant is native to Mexico and has tropical tendencies in its preferred temperature and light levels. Other names include cardboard plant, cardboard sago, cardboard cycad, Jamaican sago and Mexican cycad. The botanical name of cardboard palm is Zamia furfuracea. Zamia furfuracea is not real palm but rather a cycad, like Sago Palm. The plant's binomial name comes from the Latin zamia, for "pine nut", and furfuracea, meaning "mealy" or "scurfy". All parts of the plant are poisonous to animals, including humans. The toxicity causes liver and kidney failure, as well as eventual paralysis. Dehydration sets in very quickly. No treatment for the poisoning is currently known.

Zamia furfuracea has a short think fleshy trunk covered with old leaf bases. Trunk collects water that is used during drought. The Cardboard Palm has pinnate, feathery-like, leaves which grow from the center of the trunk. Leaves are olive green, overlapping, with a fuzzy surface that looks like they are made of plastic. They feel like cardboard to the touch, hence the name Cardboard Palm. They form a symmetrical rosette growing upright in full sun and horizontal in shade. Thick leaves are covered with thick oval leaflets. The Cardboard Palm has male and female reproductive system on separate plants. It produces interesting shaped cones, egg-shaped on the female plant and long oval-shaped on the male. When ripe, the female cone breaks to reveal bright red seeds, about 1 inch long. This fruit is not eatable.

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3 - 5 feet

Width-Circumference (Avg)

4 - 6 feet

Approximate pH

5.0 - 6.0

Growth Nutrition of Cardboard Palm

Cardboard Palm grows very slowly and doesn't require added fertilizer. Replacing your plant's potting soil once a year should provide them with more than enough nutrition. Remember, plants get their energy from sunlight, not fertilizer.

Planting Cardboard Palm

Choose a site for your cardboard palm where it gets at least partial sun during the day. Dig a hole that’s as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Place the plant in the hole, and, while holding it upright and steady, fill in around the roots with good-quality topsoil or, if you’re planting in a container, potting soil. Water thoroughly. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of an organic mulch, such as bark chips, around the root zone, to conserve water and hinder weeds.

Growing Cardboard Palm From Seeds

It can be difficult, but not impossible, to propagate cardboard palm from seeds. Propagation of this plant can't be done by cuttings. Commercial growers typically harvest the bright red seeds from cones produced by the female plant which are viable for a very short time. However, if you can verify that you have a female plant and can quickly harvest the seeds, take these steps and stay patient:

  1. Plant seeds as soon as you can in small seed starter pots filled with moistened sand.

  2. Place pots in a warm spot with moderate light. Make sure the temperature is above 65 degrees Fahrenheit or use a warming mat.

  3. When two sets of leaves have appeared and roots are strong (with a gentle tug), transfer the plant into a larger pot.

Cardboard Palm Care

The key to growing cardboard palm plants 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.

Pruning and Propagation


Your cardboard palm doesn’t need pruning for shape; it will naturally assume a pleasing, rounded mound. The only pruning you’ll need to do is to trim off dead, diseased, or damaged branches whenever you see them. Branches arise from the central trunk, and outer branches will slowly wilt away and can be cut out.


The zamia plant can be tough to grow this indoor plant from seed, since they come in both male and female sexes. It can be difficult to tell which type you have – generally, males produce a large cone from the center of it while the female cone tends to be smaller and flatter.

A female will produce numerous bright red seeds when pollinated. You can collect these and germinate them in moist and indoors. Keep the seeds at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit until they germinate. If you decide to grow your own cardboard palm from seed, it’s important that you sow them immediately after harvesting – they don’t stay viable for long.

Not only that, but after the seedling emerges, it takes quite some time before it looks anything like the adult plant. You’ll provide it with only moderate light until it creates its second set of true leaves.

Of course, you can always purchase a potted houseplant from the store, too, which will speed up the process considerably.

Potting and Repotting Cardboard Palms

Growing a cardboard palm from seed is especially difficult, so it’s recommended to select a nursery plant to pot. Pick a sturdy pot that’s slightly larger than your plant’s root ball, and plant the cardboard palm in quality potting mix. Make sure the pot has an ample amount of drainage holes.

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.

Pests and Diseases

There are few pests and diseases to which the Zamia furfuracea plant is vulnerable. The one exception is the Florida red scale. This pest can be seriously problematic if left unattended as it inhibits the growth of the tree. You can remove Florida red scale insects with a bit of rubbing alcohol applied to the plant to scrub them off.

Two other issues to watch out for are mealybug insects (a pest) and leaf spot (a fungal disease). Again, these can be controlled by picking them off the plant by hand, using insecticidal soap, and watching your watering.

Rot is the biggest problem affecting the houseplant. It is caused by overwatering and can occur in the crown or stem. Once the crown is consumed by fungal spores, it is difficult to reverse it. Therefore, it’s important that you remain vigilant when it comes to watering your plant – don’t overdo it!

Common Problems With Cardboard Palm

It's tough to find an easier plant to grow and maintain. Inspect your majestic cardboard palm for the following issues.

Yellow Leaves

The plant may be overwatered which turns leaves yellow. Or, the leaves are older and dying off. Simply prune the yellow leaves off with a sharp, sterile cutting tool.

Brown Leaves

The biggest problem you may see with a cardboard palm is brown leaves indicating root rot or crown rot. Rot is caused by overwatering. Too much watering is unnecessary because the plant's thick semi-succulent stem is like a tank that holds water. You may not be able to save a cardboard palm that experiences rot.

Brown leaves, however, may also indicate sun scorch because the plant was placed in a spot where it got too much sunlight.

Leaves Drooping and Wilting

Your plant is likely underwatered and dehydrated if it's drooping or wilting. If the pot feels lighter than you think it should, the roots and soil are very dry. Begin to salvage the plant by watering the soil slowly to moisten it and don't drown the roots.


Outdoor/Indoor Use: Both The Cardboard Palm Tree is a very popular house plant, because it is very easy to grow and maintain. If you want to grow it indoors, make sure it gets as much light as possible during its growing periods that happened once or twice a year, usually from March to June.

While they’re preferred as houseplants, cardboard palms are built drought-tolerant and make perfect additions to xeriscape gardens.

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