This section is from the book "The Florists' Manual", by William Scott. Also available from Amazon: The Florist's Manual.
There is one species of this handsome palm-like plant that is known to all florists - the C. revolufa. It is not only one of the finest of our decorative plants, but its handsome leaves are largely used simply tied together or with the addition of roses, etc., for funeral designs. Cycas leaves of all sizes and perfect in outline and color are now imported either from China or climes where this plant grows freely out of doors the year round. Although they are beautifully preserved and put into fine artistic forms, they are not quite the thing with all our customers, and do not entirely take the place of the homegrown, naturally colored leaves.
The cycas is quite a tough plant. I mean by that that it withstands a good deal of rough usage. I have seen it do well the year round in a light room where gas was used, and if you have no better place it will thrive in a temperature of 50 degrees all winter, but that is not the way to produce fine leaves. It will burn under the focus of glass, but will stand out of doors unharmed in the broadest and hottest suns if plentifully supplied with water. It makes a grand specimen for a lawn during the summer months.
They should not have a larger pot or tub than is necessary, but must have a shift every two years if they are making a strong growth. The soil should be a strong turfy loam, lightened up with leaf-mold and sand, or a fifth or sixth of well rotted cow manure. In the spring it you have no occasion to shift them give them a mulch of not over-decayed manure. When in good health they will always make one whorl of leaves every spring. If water passes freely through the soil you cannot very well overwater them, and they like syringing at all times. Their great enemy is brown scale, and to remove or rather prevent it, they must be sponged with the kerosene emulsion. Mealy bug will attack them, but there is no excuse for that, as the hose should keep them down. A temperature of 60 degrees will do very well in winter and as hot as you like in spring and summer. When cutting the leaves for use never cut very close to the stem; leave three inches of the stem of the leaf on the main trunk.
There is no need of discussing the method of propagation of the cycas, as the young plants or stems in a dormant state are now imported by the ton and sold by weight. When first received they should be put into pots not much larger than the diameter of stem and plunged into bottom heat. They will in course of time throw out a small whorl of leaves, but their root action is slow. At this stage they are easily hurt, and although not wanting bottom heat after a few months, the plants should not be put out of doors or used for decoration, or by any means sold to a customer till they have made a good growth of roots, which will be two years from the time they are started.
We often get an old cycas on our hands that has been abused and lost its leaves. By shaking off the soil and potting in small pots and treating as you do the imported stems you will in time get a good plant.
C. revoluta is by far the most valuable to the florist for all purposes. Of the other species for private collections, media and circinalis are fine plants.