Macrozamias are part of a very ancient group of plants known as cycads. The genus Macrozamia is endemic to Australia and there are about 25 species. They do not produce flowers and reproduce by means of cones borne on separate male and female plants. All species have dark green, palm-like fronds arising from a central trunk. In some species (including M.communis) the trunk is very short or subterranean.
Macrozamia communis is a medium-sized cycad with large, fern-like leaves arising from a short or subterranean trunk. The leaves are 1 to 2 metres long with glossy green, linear-shaped leaflets 100 – 300 mm long. The male cones are cylindrical in shape up to 450 mm long by about 150 mm wide, aging to a greyish-brown colour. Female cones are barrel shaped to about 450 mm x 200 mm. When ripe, the cone on the female plant breaks apart to release the large, bright red seeds which are about 50mm long by 25mm wide. In its natural habitat, M.communis can form extensive colonies as an understorey in eucalypt forests.
The seeds contain toxic compounds which have caused fatalities to both humans and livestock. The aborigines developed a method of vigorous leaching to remove the toxins and most species of Macrozamia were an important part of their diet.
The Burrawang has been in cultivation for many years and forms a very attractive plant for a garden or container. However, the plant is very slow growing and may take 5 years or more to be noticed as a feature plant and many more years to reach anything like a reasonable size. Cones should not be expected for at least 10 years. In the garden, M.communis is not demanding in its requirements providing drainage is good. The plant can withstand extended dry periods and is best in dappled shade.
Propagation is from seed which germinates easily without the need for any pretreatment.
For further information on cycads and their cultivation see:
- Cycads of the World (2000); David L. Jones, Reed New Holland, Australia.
- The Cycad Pages
- Cultivation of Australian Cycads
Female cone on Macrozamia communis
Photo: Brian Walters