Photo Nora Martinez
The Cycad Pages
Zamia pygmaea

Zamia pygmaea Sims, Bot. Mag. 43: t.1741 (1815).
"TYPE: W. Indies [Cuba], cult. Hort. Loddiges, Salisbury s.n. (holo BM)."

Zamia pygmaea var. wrightii A. DC., Prodr. 16(2): 539 (1868).

"TYPE: Cuba, Sabanas Chirigati, Wright 3192 (holo G-DC, iso BM, GH, MO)."

Photo Dennis Stevenson

Etymology: With reference to the small stature of the plants of the species.

Historical notes: Because Z. pygmaea grows under such xeric conditions in extreme habitats, there have been many segregated taxa as listed under synonymy above. For example, Z. silicea Britton grows, as its name suggests, in almost pure sand on the Isla de Pinos, Cuba and represents a stunted form in this habitat. Zamia pygmaea var. wrightii A. DC. growing in open savanna, another extreme habitat, has somewhat fewer leaflets that are more obovate and coriaceous (compare the accompanying illustrations of the types). The most discordant element corresponding to previous segregates is Z. kickxii Miq. As can be seen from the photograph of the type specimen, Z. kickxii has ovate to almost lanceolate leaflets that almost appear more similar to those of Z. fischeri than to the type of Z. pygmaea. Unfortunately, there are only four collections of material from Cuba that correspond to the type of Z. kickxii and these are from four different localities across the main island and are singular so that the level of diversity between and within populations are not ascertainable at this time. In recent years, many plants in cultivation have been labeled as Z. kickxii that clearly correspond to the types of the truly obovate leaflets of Z. pygmaea. Plants that truly correspond to the type of Z. kickxii from a known wild locality are apparently
Zamia type specimens
1. Holotype of Z. ottonis 2. Isotype of Z. pygmaea var. wrightii
3. Holotype of Z. pygmaea 4. Holotype of Z. kickxii
(full image file is 478 kb)
unknown in cultivation at this time. However, it may well be that forms corresponding to Z. kickxii may show up among the numerous seedlings that are now produced from cultivated plants of Z. pygmaea.

Distinguishing features: The most distinguishing feature is the dwarf stature of the plants. In overall vegetative and reproductive morphology, Z. pygmaea is most similar to Z. amblyphyllidia D. Stev. and appears as a diminutive form of the latter. Both species generally have distinctive obovate leaflets that are glabrous in contrast to the pubescent obovate leaflets of Z. furfuracea L. fil. It should be noted that Z. pygmaea is one the species of Zamia that can drastically change under cultivation. The plants become more vigorous and produced more and larger leaves andf larger stems as can be seen in the accompyaning photographs of a plant in habitat versus one in cultivation.

Distribution and habitat: Endemic to Western Cuba and the Isla de Pinos. Plants of Z. pygmaea generally grow in open dry habitats. These vary from serpentine to limestone outcrops to almost pure sand. Zamia pygmaea, along with Z. angustifolia Miq., is one of the most xerophytic species in the genus.

Conservation: Little is known about the number and sizes of the populations of Z. pygmaea. Evidence from Cuban botanists indicate that at least some of the populations are healthy partly because they occur in habitats that are not suitable for agriculture and there appears to be no commercial collecting for the horticultural market. 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Category R,II,R.
Photo Dennis Stevenson
Photo Dennis Stevenson


Stem hypogeous, small, to 2 cm diam. in habitat (to 4 cm diam. in cultivation).

Cataphylls from 0.5-1.5 cm long, sheathing at first, with a pair of inconspicuous stipules.

Leaves 1-4 in habitat (to 20 in cultivation); petioles smooth; rachis smooth, bearing 5-15 (to 20 in cultivated plants) pairs of leaflets.

Leaflets ovate to strongly obovate, with 10-15 teeth in upper fourth, median ones 1-8 cm long and 0.5-2 cm wide.

Pollen cones 1-3, pedunculate, dark reddish brown, cylindrical to ovoid-cylindrical, apex acute, 1.5-5 cm long and 0.8-2 cm in diameter.

Seed cones 1-2, pedunculate, dark reddish brown sometimes becoming gray when mature, slightly ovoid to ovoid with long tapering acute apex, 2-8 cm long and 2-4 cm in diam.

Seeds with a red to orange-red, ovoid, 1-1.5 cm long.

2n = 16.

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Written and maintained by Ken Hill 1998-2010
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