Photo Dennis Stevenson
The Cycad Pages
Zamia pseudoparasitica

Zamia pseudoparasitica Yates in Seem., "Bot. Voy. Herald 6: 201-203, 253" (1854).
"TYPE: Panama, Chagres, Warszewicz s.n. (holo BM)."

Zamia pseudoparasitica var. latifolia J. Schust., "in Engl., Pflanzenr. 4(1): 142" (1932).

TYPE: description (lecto fide Stevenson & Sabato 1986).

Etymology: With reference to the epiphytic habitat of the species.

Historical notes: First described in 1854 this species was not seen again until rediscovered by Robert Dressler in 1975. Zamia pseudoparasitica has been confused with Zamia fairchildiana a terrestrial species also found in the same region in Panama. However, even though both species have basally falcate leaflets, Z. fairchildiana has serrated leaflet margins in contrast to the entire left margins of Z. pseudoparasitica. Moreover, the two species are not sympatric. That is the former does not grow under trees containing the latter.

Distinguishing features: Besides being the only species of Zamia that is epiphytic and that has yellow seeds, Z. pseudoparasitica can also be distinguished by its large coriaceous leaves with basally falcate leaflets that have entire margins and are devoid of any grooves or striations.

Distribution and habitat: Zamia pseudoparasitica, endemic to Panama, occurs from 50-1000 m in trees on steep slopes in rainforest and cloudforest. It appears to be limited to primary forest perhaps because it can not be established smaller trees in the establishment of secondary forest. Zamia pseudoparasitica is the only truly epiphytic cycad and is not found as a terrestrially growing plant. It hangs from branches by the tap and lateral roots and generally is found from 7-20 meters above the ground on large trunks and in lower crotches of large canopy trees. The portion of these trunks with plants of Z. pseudoparasitica are generally devoid of other epiphytes such as bromeliads, orchids, ericads, etc. The stem of Z. pseudoparasitica grows upwards but as the plant becomes larger and heavier it becomes pendulous and the stem develops a pronounced U-shape. As with most cycads, coralloid roots are produced but unlike other cycads the coralloid roots occur in dense hemispherical clusters that attain diameters of 5-10 cm. The leaves, strobili, and seeds are among the largest in the genus. The seeds are unique in Zamia because of their distinct yellow sarcotesta. This unique sarcotesta is thick and becomes mucilaginous upon ripening and produces a distinctive sour odor. Neither plants or seedlings have been found growing on the forest floor under trees with ovulate plants even though old ungerminated seeds have been found. Thus, it appears as if Z. pseudoparasitica is dispersed by animals, most likely frugivorous bats.

Conservation: 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Category V,II,V.
Photo Dennis Stevenson
Photo Ken Hill


Plants epiphytic with arborescent stems, to 1 m long and 15 cm diam.

Leaves 3-10, 1-3 m long; petiole inermis, 0.3-1 m long; rachis inermis, with 20-50 pairs of leaflets.

Leaflets gray-green, coriaceous, oblanceolate, subfalcate basally, acute apically, margins entire, the median ones 30-50 cm long, 2-4 cm wide.

Pollen cones cream to tan, cylindrical, 25-50 cm long, 2-4 cm diam.

Seed cones yellow-green to tan, cylindrical to ovoid- cylindrical, 25-50 cm long, 8-12 cm diam.

Seeds yellow, sarcotesta becoming mucilaginous, 1.5-2.5 cm long, 1-1.5 diam.

2n = 16 (Norstog in Caryologia 33: 419-428. 1980).

The Cycad Pages

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Written and maintained by Ken Hill 1998-2010
Maintained by Leonie Stanberg and Dennis Stevenson 2010-2012
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