Zamia furfuracea

Zamia furfuracea or Cardboard Palm is a striking cycad with a very unusual shape and beautiful foliage.

It is a fossil plant from the time of the dinosaurs.

It is widespread as a houseplant in temperate zones, as a container plant in subtropical zones and in the garden in the tropics.

It is can also easily be trained as a bonsai.

Easy to keep but be very cautious: all parts of the plant are highly toxic to humans and animals! The symptoms range from liver and kidney failure to paralysis. For small children and pets the poisoning can also be lethal. There is no known treatment against this poisoning.


The plant has a short underground stem that can measure 20 cm in diameter. It grows very slowly the first year but thereafter accelerates growth significantly. It usually reaches 1.3 m high but can sometimes grow up to 2 m.

The leaves grow from the center of the plant. Each leave is 50-150 cm long with a petiole 15-30 cm long and 6-12 pairs of extremely stiff, hairy, green leaflets. These leaflets grow to 8-20 cm long and 3-5 cm wide. Sometimes the leaflets are serrated at the top. The circular crown of leaves resembles ferns or palm leaves. They stand upright in the sunlight, horizontally in the shade.

The plant produces a rusty-brown cone in the middle of the female plant. The egg-shaped seed-producing female cones and smaller pollen-producing male cones appear on separate plants. Pollination is done by certain insects, namely the beetle Rhopalotria mollis.


Common names:

Cardboard palm, Cycas


Palma pumila, Palmifolium furfuraceum, Zamia crassifolia, Zamia furfuracea var. trewii, Zamia gutierrezii, Zamia latifolia, Zamia media var. gutierrezii, Zamia muricata var. obtusifolia, Zamia vestita


Zamia: from the Greek zēmía (loss, damage)
Furfuracea: from the Latin furfurāceus (scurfy)


Veracruz (Mexico)


The cardboard palm grows in warm sandy coastal plains.


USDA zone 9-11, -2,2 °C



Sandy and well drained


Optimal temperature: 26-28 °C
Minimal temperature: 13-15 °C
Dies at: -2,2 °C


Full sun to partial shade. It grows best and becomes the largest at 30% shade.


Water only when the substrate is completely dry, pour water till it flows out of the bottom of the pot. It is drought resistant and stores water in the tuber.


Needs fertilizer only once a year in spring: mulch with organic material (bark and leaf) or provide palm fertilizer.


Every 3 years.


The cardboard palm can only be propagated by the fleshy, bright crimson-colored seeds produced by female plants. The germination process is very slow and difficult to succeed in cultivation. As a result, many plants which are sold for use in horticulture, are illegally collected in the wild, which led to the species being classified as threatened.

Sowing instructions:

  • remove the outer red tissue around the seed with a knife because it contains germination inhibitors
  • scarificeer the seeds on the side opposite the hilum (where it was stuck to the plant) down to the soft tissue
  • prepare a substrate of equal parts sand, peat moss and bark
  • cover the seeds with a thin layer of this substrate
  • moisten en keep moist
  • 18-24 °C room temperature
  • the seedlings can be transplanted 6 weeks after germination
  • germination time: with scarification 10 days to 3 months, without scarification: 1 year or more
  • germination ratio: rarely more than 30%.