Cycads are ancient seed plants dating back over 200 million years. In the Jurassic Period cycad-like plants dominated world vegetation, which is why this era is sometimes referred to as ?The Age of Cycads?. However, through the centuries cycads have declined both in number and distribution. Today three families are commonly recognised, with 11 genera and 250 species. There are many Australian native cycads and three endemic genera: Bowenia, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia. Although they are very popular garden plants, cycads are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild.
Cycads thrive in tropical and subtropical areas with moderate to high rainfall. They resemble palms or tree ferns, and have a thick, soft trunk and a crown of large divided leaves. These primitive plants are dioecious (i.e. male and female reproductive structures are borne on separate plants). Male plants produce pollen in cones and female plants produce large, brightly coloured seeds on the edges of leaf like structures. The seeds are highly poisonous, and must be treated with care.