Sago Palm: Worth the Trouble in Eastern NC?

— Written By Thomas Glasgow and last updated by Jami Hooper
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Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is a popular landscape plant in coastal areas from Eastern North Carolina southwards into Florida. Travelers will note, however, that these plants look better and attain greater size in the low country of South Carolina, for example, than here in Craven County. Sago palm, actually a cycad rather than a true palm, is considered suitable in Zone 8b and southwards, and is perhaps cold hardy down to about 19°. It is frequently discolored in Craven County winters but shows a good ability to recover, primarily due to its sympodial rather than monopodial growth pattern. Sympodial palms (and palm-like plants) have the ability to sprout new side buds near the ground, and start over with new stems. Monopodial palms, which include cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto), windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), and pindo palm (Butia capitata) do not have this characteristic and cannot recover when the foliage and growing point at the top of the trunk have been killed by a hard freeze.
The following images tell the story of one sago palm here at the Craven County Agricultural Building, and address the question of whether or not sago palm is worth the trouble.
Sago palm

Our sago palm prior to being bundled up on 1/6/17, in preparation for three three straight nights with temperatures reaching 19°, 16° and 21° respectively (

Covered plant

This strategy seems to have worked.

Sago plant

Same plant, 1/30/18, following an even longer and more severe cold snap earlier that month. (See Winter Damage to Plams for more information on that event.)

Sago plant

Back in business on 11/3/20, but are we looking at the original plant?

Sago plants

It appears that sympodial growth saved the day. In place of the original sago palm, we have three relatively new ones, arranged as if they did in fact sprout from the base of the original plant.

For Craven County gardeners who know what they’re dealing with, and are willing to take a few steps back every few years, sago palm is certainly worth the trouble in Craven County. But don’t expect the same results that you find in Georgetown, South Carolina.