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Origin and Habitat: Zamia spartea is known only from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Chiapas and perhaps neighbouring Oaxaca, Mexico (extent of occurrence of 1,235 km²). The whole population consists of less than 2,500 mature individuals.
Altitude range: 100 m to 500 m above sea level.
Habitat and Ecology: Zamia spartea grows in generally well drained soils and under arid conditions in dry oak forests at low elevations. Occasionally in hilly grasslands where it is difficult to find plants in the surrounding grass. This is because of the very thin grass-like leaflets of this species. Even though it's been known for over a hundred years it's only been collected a few times since its discovery. As a result we know little about its status or reproductive health. Based on decline at known locations, which exceeds 80%, Zamia spartea qualifies as Critically Endangered. Habitat destruction is fortunately not as severe as in areas with more fertile soils. Most of the habitat is used for grazing cattle and this causes little damage to the cycads. Does seem to persist somewhat in highly disturbed areas.
Description: Zamia spartea is an attractive small cycad with a small subterranean caudex which is often lifted up out of soil in cultivation. Fronds are under 90 cm long, gently curved downward. Leaflets are long, fine and grassy, pale sea green, typically less than 6 mm wide. The new emergent leaves are orange-red and make this species one of the more beautiful cycads. It's a delicate looking plant and flushing orange is rather spectacular. Over time, Zamia spartea may form small clusters, because it grows in a clumping habit (by offset) and does not form an above-ground trunk.
Derivation of specific name:* The Latin derivation of the word "spartea" means “sparse” but not known whether in reference to the narrow grassy leaflets or the few apical teeth on the leaflets.
Distinguishing features: Narrow, often grey green, leaflets (< 6 mm wide) with revolute margins.
Stems: Subterranean and tuberous, under 7.5 cm thick, 30 cm long, often dichotomously branched, wrinkled and devoid of old leaf bases.
Leaves (fronds): More often than not few 2-10. Petioles with small prickles. Rachis bearing 5-20 pairs of opposite to subopposite leaflets, sometimes with small prickles. Leaflets linear 10-25 cm long and 4-6 mm wide, acuminate apically, with 3-5 teeth at the apex.
Cataphylls: The cataphylls (Modified leaf, much reduced and thickened, serving to protect the apical meristem in cycads produced in flushes preceding the emergence of cones or leaves.) are 1-2 cm long, sheathing at first, with a pair of inconspicuous stipules.
Male cones: Pedunculate, light gray to brownish, 1-5, cylindrical but gradually tapering towards acute apex, each 6-10 cm long and 1-3 cm in diameter, densely pubescent.
Female cones: Greyish to brown, usually solitary but occasionally up to 3, cylindrical to slightly ovoid with a blunt or slightly acute apex, each 6-10 cm long and 4-6 cm in diameter, densely pubescent.
Seeds: Ovoid, 1-1.5 cm long with a red to orange-red sarcotesta
Chromosome number: 2n = 18
Notes: Zamia furfuracea, Zamia loddigesii and Zamia spartea all produce cones in the summer, whereas Zamia integrifolia and the similar Caribbean zamias all produce cones in the winter. Z. spartea and Z. furfuracea are interfertile and produces a hybrid commonly know as 'Norstog hybrid' (Norstog et al., I986). Zamia loddigesii can very well be an ancient hybrid between Z. furfuracea and Z. spartea. The variability within Z. loddigesiis is very wide comprising both forms with very thin and wide leaflets and everything in between. Pollen from a ripe male cone must be deposited internally into the female cone to produce viable seeds. In this fashion, interspecies hybrids can be created. As colonies of Zamia of different species may occur in the same area, the possibility exists for natural hybrids. But, in most cases, species colonies are quite a distant apart and this doesn't occur. In contrast, in tropical domestic gardens where different species may be side by side, seeds produced are often hybrids.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Chemnick, J & Gregory, T. 2010. Zamia spartea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 19 November 2014.
2) Wikipedia contributors. "Zamia spartea." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 May. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014
3) S. J. Owens, Simon J. Owens, Paula Rudall “Reproductive biology in systematics, conservation and economic botany” Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1998
4) Phil Bergman Jungle Music Palms and Cycads 06/23/2014 "ZAMIA, AN INTRODUCTION TO THIS GENUS OF VERY EXOTIC CYCADS" <http://www.junglemusic.net/Zamia/Zamia_An_Exotic_Type_Of_Cycad.html> Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
5) “The Cycad Pages: Zamia spartea” Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney Written and maintained by Ken Hill 1998-2010 Maintained by Leonie Stanberg and Dennis Stevenson 2010-2012 <http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au> Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
6) tai haku “Zamia spartea” in: Earth, Wind & Water Blog. http://tai-haku.blogspot.it/2010/07/zamia-spartea.html Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
Cultivation and Propagation: Zamia spartea <is a small plant with long thin leaflets and among the more beautiful Zamia, it is easy to grow, but seldom seen in collections because of the popularity of the wider leaflet species. Even so it worth a place in every cycads collection for its beauty. The only problem is that it is slow growing, however good growth conditions can speed it up considerably. Tolerates more sun and cold than most Zamias and is pest and disease resistant. It is also cultivated as an indoor plant in temperate countries.
Exposition: It prefers bright light exposure but colour bleaches when in full sun; best with some protection from afternoon heat but not in constant deep shade.
Soil: Needs a neutral, well drained sandy soil spot, with deep soil, but will still thrive in less than ideal conditions. Mulch with organic materials (bark or leaf mould).
Moisture: Water when dry. Drought tolerant.
Fertilization. Because of its growth habit, fertilize only when terminal bud begins to swell, indicating the start of the annual growth cycle.
Hardiness: It should be protected from extreme cold. (USDA Zones 9-11) Sustains leaf damage at -2° C.
Maintenance: Minimal; removal of offsets if desired, removal of spent fronds
Use: Landscape as cultivated perennial in warm areas, it makes a great accent or specimen plant. Several can be planted together for a lush, tropical effect. Plant on three to five-foot-centers to create a mass planting. Use near the patio, in mixed foundation plantings or in perennial beds. It is a spectacular house-plant or interior-scape specimen in cool areas tough enough to survive occasional neglect and harsh indoor environments. It is very well suited to bonsai culture.
Warning: All parts of the plant are poisonous to animals and humans. The toxicity causes liver and kidney failure, as well as eventual paralysis. Dehydration sets in very quickly. No treatment for the poisoning is currently known. Poisonous Parts: Fleshy seeds, leaves. Protect pets and instruct children to never eat or chew any plant material without permission.
Propagation: Seeds. The germination process is very slow and difficult to achieve in cultivation, after fertile seeds are collected, they usually need several months of storage before the inner embryo is ready to germinate. Therefore, it is best to clean the seeds of external fruit and set them aside before attempting to propagate the seeds. Seeds should be sown in shallow container, lightly covered with sand, and after germination, potted off in small pots of moderately rich, light soil. The growing plants do best in partial shade. The old plants frequently send up suckers around the base of the trunk. These may be taken off when in a dormant state and rooted, care being taken to remove the leaves to guard against excessive transpiration. The advantage of the "pups" is that you will know its sex, for seedlings you will have to wait several years until the plant flowers to find out.
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