Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. Cycads have been used as emergency food in many cultures. In Florida, however, Seminole Indians relied on starch made from the native cycad, Zamia floridana, as a primary source of calories. This plant, which covered portions of Florida, became the backbone of the arrowroot flour industry which flourished from 1850 to the 1920’s.
Millions of these plants were taken from their native habitat. The rivers that received the waste water from processing became so polluted with toxic compounds that cattle drinking from those sources were poisoned – a condition called Zamia staggers. In the South Pacific, a neurological condition called Guam Disease was traced to ingestion of this plant 15 to 20 years earlier, even though those individuals used a traditional native method thought to leech away the toxins. Even skin exposure to brightly colored seed, sometimes used by children in play, can be dangerous.