I can’t begin to cite the number of times that I have been called to survey an entire collection or partial collection of cycads that had no tags or identification list whatsoever. Since I am familiar with numerous cycads, I am able to identify many based on characteristics such as leaf shape, leaf margins, color, spines, etc. But most collectors don’t know all the cycads or all of their unique features. Throw hybrids into the picture, and you could have an identification problem.
The difficulty of dealing with collections with no plant identification, has led me to emphasize to all cycad collectors the importance of establishing a method of identifying all plant material in your collection. You must ask yourself, “If I suddenly was no longer on the scene to care for my collection, would someone be able to make sense of my plant material?” It seems that cycad collectors, and I suppose collectors in general, often get caught up in the fury of the process of collecting, with little initial consideration as to basic as well as long term care and maintenance obligations for these unique plants. I too am guilty. But provenance is important, especially with these rare beauties that can live to be hundreds of years old, and can pass through the hands of numerous collectors in their life spans.
Care of our collections after we are gone is not a subject that many of us care to consider, but it is a certainty that most of our cycads, given reasonable care, are going to last much longer than we will. Often a family member is left to deal with a collection that they know little or nothing about. Leaving an easily understood inventory of one’s collection, along with some basic care instructions, can eliminate much uncertainty for those who may wish to continue to grow the plants. It will also help to ensure that the plants will be kept in fairly good condition until the transition to other collectors, botanical gardens, or any other chosen entities can take place. Possibly make arrangements now, or at the very least, have an agreement with family members as to your wishes regarding the distribution of your plants.
For any collectors who have a few years into their collections, it is important to realize how fortunate you are to share some of your life experience with these unique plants. With the ownership of cycads, one should feel privileged to have that opportunity, and to not only have a long term plan in place, but also make every effort to learn to cultivate your collection to the best of your ability. Generally speaking cycads are not difficult to grow. Once the basics of cultivation are understood and needs are met, the plants will just do what they have evolved to do. Grow and be productive.
The high cost of ignorance is what really persuaded me to learn all I could to try to get it right. Since I first became interested in cycads in 1972 while attending college, I usually didn’t have much spare change to indulge in my new found interest. So the sting of losing seedlings due to my misguided cultivation techniques ran deep. I must acknowledge in partial defense that in those days there were few people that collected cycads, and even fewer had much knowledge on cultivation. There was very little written, and, of course, the internet did not exist, as we know it today.
In conclusion I feel that as collectors, we all share a responsibility for the short and long term care of cycads. We all should adopt a sense of stewardship toward our collections, and try to accept some degree of awareness as to the immediate care and eventual distribution of our collections. We must understand the whole picture. Cycads are not only a part of our lives, but we are a part of their long life experience. Remember that we should feel privileged to be part of the lives of cycads. If these plants continue to be cared for now and after we are no longer here, they will inspire future generations to be guardians of these living fossils.
Grow and prosper,