Is The Sago Palm A Toxic or Poisonous Plant?

Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) is a small cycad (not an actual palm) that has existed relatively unchanged since prehistoric times. The plant ranges in size from 3′ to 20′ feet high with a spread of 2′ to 12′ feet. 

This plant from the Cycad family has rough, blue-green fronds, and female plants produce a large, ruffly, brownish cone filled with seed annually. Therefore, you must have both male and female plants nearby for successful pollination. 

Sago palms growing outdoorsPin

The plant has a thick, stubby, rough brown trunk. It makes an excellent indoor container or potted plant in cold climates, or it can grow outdoors as a shrub or specimen plant year-round in USDA hardiness zones 8-11.

Quick Reference Sago Palm Toxicity Q&A

Is The Sago Palm Poisonous To Humans, Pets, And Livestock?

This plant contains a powerful neurotoxin that is poisonous to any living being that ingests it. 

Is It Dangerous To Touch Sago Cycads?

There is no indication that it is dangerous to touch this plant, but caution is always wise. Wear gloves, eye protection, and long sleeves when handling.

Can Sago Palms Kill You?

Death caused by ingestion of this plant is entirely possible. 

What Part Of The Sago Palm Mke It A Poisonous Plant?

All parts of the plant are highly toxic. Although all parts of this plant are poisonous, you should be especially aware that the seeds are extremely toxic, and they are very easy for pets to eat. Just a couple of Sago Palm seeds can kill a dog. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that they are rather attractive to pets. 

Are Sago Palms Poisonous To Cats Or Dogs?

This plant is toxic to people, pets, and livestock. 

What Will Kill A Sago Palm?

To kill a Sago cycad palm plant, you must use a chainsaw to cut it down to the ground; immediately drill several holes in the stump and cover the entire stump with full strength glyphosate herbicide. Be sure the holes are filled with the chemical to ensure killing the roots. Wear protective gear while performing these tasks and clean your equipment thoroughly afterward.

Is It Safe To Burn Sago Palms?

While there are no apparent reports of hazards posed by burning this plant, better safe than sorry. Dispose of Sago Palm debris by placing it in sealed black plastic bags and sending it to the landfill. Inform your trash service of the nature of the debris before pickup. 

Related: Sago Palm Fertilizer

What Are The Symptoms Of Poisoning?

The toxin found in Sago Palm is called cytosine. This is a liver toxin that causes a wide variety of highly unpleasant and sometimes fatal symptoms. While Sago Palm ingestion may not always kill, death is always a possibility. The amount of liver damage done by ingestion of parts of this plant depends upon the amount ingested. The part consumed and the size of the individual doing the ingesting. 

The victim’s health status is also an important factor in the amount of damage that may be done by ingesting this plant. Stronger, healthier individuals are better able to fight off the effects of the toxin. 

Cytosine is a fast-acting toxin, and you may see symptoms begin to manifest within fifteen minutes of ingestion. This is not always the case, though. Sometimes it may take several hours for symptoms to appear.

If you suspect ingestion has occurred, you must get the person, pet, or livestock appropriate medical attention.

Watch for these initial symptoms:

  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Although these may not seem like very severe symptoms, they are an indication that liver failure may be coming soon. When the liver fails, other parts of the body are also affected. For example, liver failure causes blood not to clot effectively. This can mean that the stricken victim may experience internal and external bleeding. Severe symptoms of cytosine toxicity include bleeding from the gums and the nose. Unfortunately, internal blood loss may go unnoticed and will cause death.

When the liver is not functioning properly, it does not detoxify the blood. This may cause damage to the central nervous system. For this reason, later-stage symptoms of cytosine poisoning include:

  • Generalized weakness
  • Wobbly ambulation
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Tremors

Other symptoms of Sago Palm poisoning include:

  • Swelling caused by the accumulation of abdominal fluid
  • Yellowing of the skin and gums
  • Uncontrollable circling
  • Excessive urination
  • Black tarry stool
  • Excessive thirst
  • Stomach pain
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Paralysis
  • Bruising
  • Coma

The diagnosis of Sago Palm toxicity can be difficult because there is no specific test available to identify cytosine. Likewise, there is no specific test to evaluate liver function and determine whether or not this specific plant has been ingested.

This is why it’s essential that you carefully monitor pets, children and livestock so that you will know if this plant has or may have been ingested. This information is essential to medical personnel. [source]

How To Protect Yourself While Handling The Sago Palm

General handling of the Sago Palm should not cause problems. Contact dermatitis is not one of the reported symptoms of exposure to this plant. Even so, it is always a good idea to wear gloves, eye protection, and long sleeves when handling a plant with toxic potential. Also, be sure to wash up thoroughly after handling or pruning your plant. 

How to Protect Yourself, Kids, Pets & Livestock from Sago Palm Poisoning

You must be especially careful when purchasing palms for your yard because Sago Palm has several common names, such as:

Be sure to do your homework to recognize Sago Palm when you see it in the store. There is no law requiring that stores label this plant as being dangerous. Many do label it, but many others do not. This is why you must practice caveat emptor – buyer beware – when shopping for palms for your home or yard.

You should keep a list of the plants around your property and inside your home and be ready to share this information with medical professionals upon request.

Keep your eyes open when you are out with your children, pets, or livestock (such as horses),. Take note of plants you may encounter along the way.

You must be especially vigilant during springtime if you live in a cold area where Sago Palm has died back during the winter and is springing forth with tender, green shoots in the springtime. Animals may be especially attracted to the plant at this time.

In warmer climates where this tropical plant thrives year-round, be on the lookout year-round. Veterinarians say that cases of Sago Palm poisoning are an ongoing threat in tropical settings.

If there is no eye-witness evidence that the plant has been ingested, veterinarians and doctors will have difficulty pinpointing the cause of symptoms. Lab tests on blood and urine may be performed.

They may indicate that Sago Palm toxicity is possible, but this does not carry the strength or definition of your positive report of Sago Palm exposure. Being aware, alert, and well-informed can help medical personnel arrive at a definitive conclusion and begin therapy quickly.

It is of the utmost importance that treatment for poisoning happens as quickly as possible. Even if you are only slightly suspicious that Sago Palm ingestion has occurred, you should call your doctor or vet and seek advice.

How Is Sago Palm Poisoning Treated?

If ingestion is recent, induced vomiting is sometimes recommended. This is done with the help of substances such as:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Apomorphine
  • Ipecac

Administered early on by qualified medical professionals, these substances will induce vomiting and remove remnants of the toxic plant from the stomach before the G.I. tract can further break it down.

It is also common to administer activated charcoal orally to absorb toxins that have been released into the stomach.

It may also help perform gastric lavage (stomach pump) to remove parts of the plant and toxins from the stomach.

If you are completely unaware that Sago Palm has been ingested, you may not be able to get medical attention before symptoms have begun to manifest. A person or animal experiencing later stage Sago Palm toxicity may need the administration of blood and/or plasma transfusion and the use of intravenous fluids.

At late-stage poisoning, inducing vomiting is not recommended. Instead, antiemetic medications may be administered to control vomiting. Additionally, medical personnel may administer gastrointestinal protectants to help soothe irritations in the G.I. tract.

Late-stage symptoms may also cause pneumonia if the victim aspirates vomit. For this reason, medical personnel may administer antibiotics.

Vitamin K may be used to help reduce internal and external bleeding.

Medical personnel may choose to administer supplements to help support the liver. These may include:

  • S-adenosylmethionine
  • Ursodeoxycholic acid 
  • N-acetylcysteine

If the victim is experiencing seizures, seizure medication may be administered.

Is It Possible to Recover from Sago Palm Poisoning? 

Recovery from Sago Palm ingestion is far from 100%. Animals that have ingested Sago Palm only have a half-and-half chance of survival. A study published by the ASPCA animal poison control center says that of nearly 1400 Sago Palm poisoning cases, thirty-three dogs died. This is about a 2 1/2% mortality rate.

Chances of success in recovery depend greatly on quick detection and rapid treatment. When handled urgently, full recovery is possible. However, understand that it is not a one-off situation. Recovery may involve ongoing therapy and an extended stay at the hospital.

After discharge, multiple follow-up visits may be required to perform blood and urine tests to monitor the functioning of the liver.

It’s important to understand that there is no single or specific antidote to combat Sago Palm toxicity. This is one of the main reasons it’s essential to seek help right away and begin an aggressive course of treatment.

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