Perhaps the time has come, or is even past due, for people in the trade, in the societies, and those who are simply enthusiasts to consider a campaign to change the name “Sago Palm” to “Sago Cycad.” On the face of it, it doesn’t seem like it’s any big deal to keep it as is, after all, it’s just a name, right? And a nickname at that.
Well, let’s take a closer look. First of all I can’t tell you how many people in southern California own Sago Palms, but have never heard the term “cycad.” Additionally they don’t realize that they actually own one of the most popular species of cycads in the world. Perhaps many of you have had people ask, “What is a cycad,” but they are familiar with a “Sago Palm.” Or you may have noticed some people who may have heard the word “cycad,” but they just can’t quite remember how to say it, and call it a “cy-ad.” The term “palm” added to the name of perhaps the best known cycad is not only misleading, but does nothing to inform or educate the public that cycads are different from palms.
I am fortunate to be serving on the board of the U.S Cycad Society. I was recently (October 2013) appointed to chair the Education Committee, and after thoughtful consideration, I felt compelled to make one of my first orders of business to start a campaign to correct this longstanding misnomer from “Sago Palm” to “Sago Cycad,” or to use it’s botanical name “Cycas Revoluta.” This simple correction can do wonders to educate the general population as well as those already in the nursery industry. And this is perhaps the first and most important step in helping the public to appreciate these amazing prehistoric plants.
Somehow it seems to be an ironic disservice that the most popular and most well known cycad in the world is saddled with a common name that describes it as a palm. I feel quite certain that there is no palm with a common name that describes it as a cycad. “Sago Palm” was probably coined as a convenient reference term that reflected the plant’s appearance and similarity to a palm, and I believe that there was probably no intent to deceive by early nurserymen and growers when the moniker was adopted. However, at the risk of appearing to rock the boat, I believe that reliable data, when known, should trump all previous data or information, if it is truthful. Nearly all other cycads (with only a few exceptions) are referred to by their botanical name. But if changing the common name of “Sago Palm” to its more descriptive name, “Cycas revoluta,” is just too much to swallow, and is too big of a jump for the general public, who usually prefer the common name, then its reference could always defer to a “new” common name of “Sago Cycad.” This would be botanically appropriate and would help to give the “Sago Cycad” a more appropriate classification in the world of botany.
Grow and Prosper,