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The Cycad Collection

Cycads, from the Cycadophyta division and order Cycadales - with morphological characteristics that make them distinct from all the others - are currently considered a small group of plants with reduced distribution and only 250 species, of 11 genera.

The Cycad Collection

The dominance of the land in the “Age of the Cycadophytes”

With roots, stems, leaves, and cones, these perennial woody plants, with long life and slow growth, dominated the earth's flora in the Mesozoic era and, above all, in the Jurassic period: the so-called "Age of the Cycadophytes."

The fossilized traces of those times show us similarities at the morphological and reproductive level with today's cycads, which is why many consider them living fossils.

A fossil life on other continents

Without apparent evolution for millions of years, these living fossils can be found in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Still, it is in Central America that one can see the highest species diversity.


Cycadophytes are found globally, with significant populations in regions such as South Africa, Australia, South America, southern North America, and the Caribbean.


The Cycad genus is the most widely distributed, with plants in Japan, China, numerous Pacific Islands, Australia, the East Coast of Africa, and Madagascar.

A fossil life on other continents

Relic plants with naked seeds, devoid of fruit

Cycads are gymnospermous plants whose ovules are exposed and do not produce fruits.


They reproduce through naked seeds enclosed by semi-fleshy integuments that can be green, brown, orange, yellow, or red. Alternatively, they can reproduce vegetatively, fertilizing near the base of the trunk. A leaf crown develops at the stem's top, arranged to resemble palm trees, particularly those of the Phoenix genus.

As dioecious plants, each plant has only one sex and not two, as is common in the plant kingdom, thus developing male or female cones in different plants.

Relic plants with naked seeds, devoid of fruit
  • Did you know...

    That Encephalartos woodii the most lonely plant in the world? 

    One of the most mysterious species at Parque Terra Nostra is the Encephalartos woodii, discovered by John Medley Wood in 1895 in the Ngoye Forest in Zululand, South Africa. From this plant were collected vegetative shoots for ex-situ conservation, and since then, all specimens in botanical gardens have resulted from cloning processes or vegetative propagation of existing plants. Being a dioic species and never having found a female plant, it is classified as extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN Red List).


    Insects help in the pollination of the cycads?

    Pollination is associated with angiosperms, plants that produce flowers, an evolutionary feature that has made them more attractive to insects and other animals. It is essential for pollination and dispersion of seeds. Such a fruitful relationship allowed angiosperms to dominate the earth's current flora. Recent studies suggest that certain cycads, like the Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi species, rely on more than the wind for pollen transportation between male and female cones. They have developed additional strategies, including emitting volatile odors and heat from the cones, which attract insects, notably beetles, and thrips. These insects play a vital role in pollination and the subsequent fertilization process.

    Cycads are used in the kitchen?

    Sagu is a starch from the pith, the spongy interior of various plants, including Cycas revoluta, in the Garden. This easy-to-digest flour has a soft, light texture, a low-fat content, and is an excellent source of fiber. It is widely used in traditional dishes from Malaysia, India, and New Guinea. It is served in desserts in Brazil and the United Kingdom as puddings.

The Cycad Collection in numbers

  • Families



  • Genera



  • Species



  • Subspecies



  • Varieties



  • Cultivars



The History of Cycads at Parque Terra Nostra

When German collector Christian Muller visited the Garden, he was captivated by an exotic tree (Cunninghamia lanceolata) in his continuous search for cycadophytes and expressed interest in obtaining one.

The head gardener offered him a young plant, and later, Christian Muller returned the gift, donating a few species of cycadophytes. It was with these plants that Parque Terra Nostra Cycad Collection began in 2000, becoming one of Europe's most complete collections with 88 species.

A collection that delights visitors all year round, being at its peak between October and January. 

A valley becomes a prehistoric habitat

The Cycad Collection was crafted within a former orange grove of the Garden, transformed into a quaint valley that transports visitors to a prehistoric realm. In this environment, captivating creatures like the mighty dinosaurs once roamed alongside the cycadophytes, which likely served as a food source.

Throughout the Garden, a tall hedge of Pittosporum undulatum and Eugenias, specifically Syzygium australe, was initially planted when orange trees graced the landscape. This dual-purpose arrangement aimed to shield the citrus from powerful winds while delineating the ornamental sections. Today, this hedge plays an additional role in fostering a crucial microclimate for the acclimatization of cycadophytes. 

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