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What is Ceratozamia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 June 2018
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Ceratozamia is a genus of cycads native to the New World. Cycads are trees and shrubs that produce leafy crowns topping a typically wide trunk, sometimes causing people to confuse them with palm trees and ferns. In the case of Ceratozamia, the genus has less than 20 known species and many of them are threatened or endangered. While some people cultivate Ceratozamia species in captivity, it is important to purchase ethically sourced trees to avoid contributing to destruction of wild specimens.

Members of this genus come in an array of sizes. They are all characterized by having pinnately compound leaves arranged in a spiral around the top of the trunk. Some species have partially buried trunks deep underground, while others are more exposed, and the trunks are typically stout. The leaves vary from very fine, lightweight leaves looking almost like ferns to much heavier, larger leaves, and are typically bright to dark green.

In the wild, these trees live in mountainous and forest regions, varying from the tropics to temperate zones. One of the reasons some Ceratozamia species are facing extinction in the wild is that individual species typically have very limited ranges. This makes them vulnerable to habitat destruction, as damage to the forest can eliminate a tree's entire growing range. In addition, these trees have a history of being poached for the nursery trade.

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People interested in growing cycads can find specimens at many nurseries and garden supply stores, especially in regions with favorable growing conditions. Ceratozamia cultivars developed in captivity are available for gardeners. The trees need rich, well-drained soil, partial shade, and plenty of moisture, as well as warm conditions. In regions where it is too cold to grow outside, greenhouse and indoor container gardening are options, as long as the indoor climate can be kept temperate and humid, maintaining conditions these cycads enjoy.

When plants are endangered or extinct in the wild, cultivation in captivity can help preserve their genetic heritage and make it possible to restore wild populations at some date in the future. In the case of species of Ceratozamia that are doing well in the wild, maintaining captive populations can still provide useful genetic references. People concerned about the conservation status of plants they are interested in growing can look them up with resources that maintain listings of threatened, endangered, and extinct species, and if a plant is of concern, questions can be asked about the source of a seedling or adult plant.

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