Sago Palm Plant
Kathryn Holguin




The Sago Palm, cycas revoluta, is a cycad, or seeded plant with a large crown of compounded leaves (as seen in the above picture) and a stocky trunk.[1] The Sago Palm originates in Southern Japan and is currently grown and kept as a household ornamental plant throughout the entire world.[2]

This plant, also known as the King Sago Palm and the False Sago Palm, requires a warm, dry, almost tropical climate, to survive. In the United States, it is found growing primarily throughout Florida, South Carolina, parts of Southern North Carolina, Southern California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.[3]

Despite the Sago Palm being kept as an ornamental plant, it is recognized as one of the most toxic plants to small domesticated animals (cats and dogs) as well as humans (in large amounts).[4]

Beautiful but Poisonous

The Sago Palm has been found to contain three highly toxic chemicals, cycasin, BMMA (B-methylamino-L-alanine) and macrozamin, in its seeds, leaves, unprocessed flour from stem pith, and the root ball.

If any part of the plant is ingested, within 12 hours it will cause severe headaches, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, seizures, dizziness, and some bruising. In both humans and animals, the best way to treat ingestion of the Sago Palm is to induce vomiting and seek medical attention from a veterinarian (animals) or a physician.[5]

Chemistry of the Toxins

Self Made Images -- Cycasin and BMAA (B-methylamino-L-alanine)

Cycasin and BMAA (also known as B(beta)-methylamino-L-alanine) are the two most common toxins found in all cycads including the Sago Palm.

BMAA is a neurotoxin that is responsible for the seizures, dizziness, and severe headaches that occur in people and animals who accidentally ingest pieces of the Sago Palm.[6]

Cycasin is a known carcinogin and mutagen. It is also responsible for the headaches, seizures, and vomiting attributed to consumption of the Sago Palm. When combined with BMAA, cycasin helps to strengthen the neurotoxins effects.

Self Made Image -- Macrozamin

Macrozamin is the third of the three toxins found in the Sago Palm plant. Macrozamin is also a carcinogin. It acts in a similar manner as cycasin, adding to the effects of BMAA.[7]

Information Regarding Cycad Toxin BMAA

It has been found that the toxin BMAA, B(beta)-methylamino-L-alanine, found in most cycads, including the Sago Palm, has been positively identified as a nonprotein amino acid which has been found responsible for several neurological disorders.[8]

These disorders are extremely prominent in countries where cycads are used as primary sources for food and medicine. However, in these countries, disorders may take years to develop after exposure. Some scientists believe that this is due to constant exposure, to which some indigenous peoples are able to build a temporary immunity or dependency to the toxin.[9]

Image from Bibliography Reference 9

Searching for Chemical Information

The chemical information obtained for the information on BMAA was found using the SciFinder Search Program in Fenwick Library. Searches to obtain information on the toxins present in the Sago Palm were performed focusing on the toxins BMAA and cycasin.

Upon searching for the toxin cycasin, no information was found in the database. I recived several "hits" for the toxin BMAA, resulting in new information regarding what types of neurological diseases are caused when cycads are ingested regularily (as in countries like Guam, where indigenous peoples have built up a type of temporary immunity to the toxin, thus prolonging the effects of the neurological diseases associated with BMAA).

Additional information can be found here.

Molecular Structures of Cycasin

Cycasin drawn using ChemSketch and 3D rendering using DSViewer Lite


  • [1] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 21, 2006, from

  • [2] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from

  • [3] Tropical Plants Library. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from

  • [4] Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North Carolina. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from

  • [5] Toxic Plants Complete. Retrieved February 21, 2006, from

  • [6] The Cycad Pages. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from

  • [7] Hazard Database. Retrieved February 23, 2006, from

  • [8] Brenner, E. D.; Stevenson, D. W.; Twigg, R. W. Plant Science Vol. 8 No. 9 September 2003 446-452. "Cycads: evolutionary innovations and the role of plant-derived neurotoxins".

  • [9] Pan, M.; Marby, T. J.; Cao, P.; Moini, M. Journal of Chromatography A, 787 1997 288-294. "Identification of nonprotein amino acids from cycad seeds as N-ethoxycarbonyl ethyl ester derivatives by positive chemical ionization gas chromatography-mass spectrometry".

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