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Cycad flowers outside in UK for the first time since pre-Jurassic period

An ancient plant believed to have last flowered outside in the UK when dinosaurs walked the earth has bloomed again. The Cycad first appeared on Earth in the pre-Jurassic period more than 190 million years ago. It may have flowered inside before as it is still kept as a popular houseplant, but botanists studying the evergreen could find no record of it blooming outside – but in half a century it could be a common occurrence.

Experts at Ventnor Botanic Garden, on the Isle of Wight, have been growing nine Cycad plants, also known as Cycas Revoluta, for a decade. They were stunned when a 20cm flower, which looks like a pine cone, appeared among the foliage at the beginning of this month. It comes ten years after a fossilized version of the plant was found in rocks close by in Ventnor.

Curator Chris Kidd dubbed the development a ‘landmark’. He said: “We put these plants outside to see how they would grow as part of an experiment. In the last ten years they’ve gone through one of the coldest winters for 30 years and survived. They’ve continued to produce a new flourish of leaves once a year. But this year one has produced a flower, which is incredibly rare. It’s hard enough to grow them inside, let alone outside. This is probably the first time it has happened outdoors since the pre-Jurassic period. We weren’t expecting it at all, when they produced leaves we didn’t expect any to go on to the next stage and flower. It means the conditions are perfect for them and it’s due to climate change. It’s a real milestone for us.”

Chris believes if the climate continues warming, the plant could become a common feature in gardens.

He added: “This isn’t the type of plant that would have grown outdoors 25 years ago. But it’s possible now because we are getting milder winters – it’s not like the Victorian times when the Thames would freeze over. The Cycad likes heat and the micro-climate here on the Isle of Wight is quite different to the rest of the UK – we’re several degrees warmer. We planted it on a south-facing plot where it was sheltered and got the most heat and sunlight.

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