Cycads – The Most Endangered Living Things on Earth

There is a group of plants that have been growing on our planet for over 250 million years. They look a bit like a cross between a palm tree and a fern, although they aren’t related to either. They have managed to survive 3 mass extinction events, including the one that killed off the Dinosaurs. In fact they are often found in fossilised dinosaur poo! These plants are called Cycads.


Having managed to survive asteroids, ice ages and being munched on by Dino’s, they are now facing a mass extinction event of their very own, due to poaching. Just like the White Rhino is poached for its horn, Cycads are illegally uprooted from the wild to be sold to people for their gardens. The most sought after Cycads are hundreds of years old when they are hacked out of the ground to be sold for thousands of pounds. Often the process of moving them kills them.

As well as poaching, habitat loss is also playing a part in their decline. This is because individual Cycads are now becoming further apart, which means they cannot pollinate each other to produce the next generation of Cycads. We are now at the point where they are the worlds most threatened group of living things. If you put all of South Africa’s endangered Cycad species together there are only about 10,000 plants. As a comparison, that is about half the number of White Rhinos left in the wild in the whole of Southern Africa.

But why would you want to save a Cycad? They don’t move, they don’t have stripes like a tiger and they certainly aren’t black and white and cuddly like a panda. I think it’s absolutely amazing that they have survived on this planet for 250 million years. Wouldn’t it be a shame if Cycads became extinct now, just because they aren’t cute or cuddly and they don’t move?

Amazing Cycad facts

  • The commonly grown houseplant called a Sago palm is actually a Cycad.
  • Some Cycads can live for over 1000 years.
  • Some Cycads have the largest seed cones of any plant.
  • The oldest pot plant in the world is a Cycad which grows in the Palm House at Kew gardens and has been doing so since the 1770s. It grows 2.5cm a year.
  • There are only 60 Albany Cycads left in the wild. That’s less than 4% of the wild pandas left!
  • In South Africa there is a group of environmental law enforcers, called the Green Scorpions, who are helping to catch Cycad poachers, as well as helping to catch rhino poachers.