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The plants in the Zoo’s cycad garden are species that have been around since dinosaurs walked the Earth.

The plants in the Zoo’s cycad garden are species that have been around since dinosaurs walked the Earth.

When is a garden a time capsule? When it’s filled with cycads! On your next visit to the Zoo, take a moment to visit the cycad garden across from the Winnick Family Children’s Zoo.

The origins of these ancient plants date back to the Carboniferous Period, about 350 million years ago, a time when flowering plants were just beginning to evolve. Though they superficially resemble palm plants, cycads are more closely related to conifers such as pine trees. These plants are dioecious, meaning each individual produces either male or female reproductive parts—one of each is required to produce fertile seed. Some species depend on specific insect pollinators and are endangered due to pesticide use.

Often, cycad species are so rare that they have no common names and are called by the region where they are found, or by the person who discovered them. Many are vanishing in the wild because they are found only in tiny regions—some not much larger than Griffith Park. Plant collectors go to great—even illegal—lengths to obtain plants like these, buying them from poachers who steal them from their native habitat. Among the plants in the Zoo’s cycad garden are protected species that were confiscated by wildlife authorities as they were being illegally smuggled into the U.S. Others, such as sago palms (Cycas revoluta) and cardboard palms (Zamia furfuracea) are easily found at garden centers, so you can legally enjoy a blast from the prehistoric past in your own backyard!