Sagos are native to tropical regions of South America. They grow up to 50 feet tall and have a long slender trunk with spiky leaves that resemble those of a banana tree. These trees produce large pods filled with seeds which contain the fruit, which resembles small bananas or melons. The fruits are edible but not very tasty due to their size and shape. Some varieties may even taste bitter.
The sap from the sago palm’s roots contains a natural pesticide called ‘tetrachloroacetic acid’ (TCA). TCA is highly toxic to humans and animals when ingested.
When it comes into contact with skin, eyes, or mucous membranes, it causes irritation and burns. Even tiny amounts of tca can cause death if consumed over prolonged periods of time. The toxicity of tca varies depending on the species of sago palm and its growing conditions. Humans exposed to high levels of tca develop symptoms similar to poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, nausea and abdominal pain. Children are most susceptible because they have smaller bodies and more sensitive systems.
In addition to being poisonous, sago palms can become infested with insects such as aphids and scale insects that feed on the sap from the plants. These insects pierce the plant’s stems and suck out the plant’s juices causing leaves to wither and fall off.
High levels of tca in soil or ground water may prevent plants from growing normally. Over time, tca that hasn’t been absorbed into the ground can evaporate and pool around the base of the sago palm.
This raises safety issues around the home because it is more likely to contact humans and animals. Ingested tca can cause kidney and liver failure.
In 1984, the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of TCA as a food additive. Despite this ban, tca can still be found in some sago palm cultivars due to poor regulation of the sale of seeds.
Most health authorities consider sago palms safe if they are grown in containers and not allowed to come into direct contact with the soil. Such palms can be kept indoors or outdoors in plastic or terracotta pots and are best situated in locations away from main entrances and high-traffic areas.
Outdoor plants are best situated in well-drained soil that contains few nutrients and has a high sand to soil ratio. This prevents insects and animals from gaining access to the tca in the soil, as they don’t like sandy soil.
It is important to keep these plants out of reach of pets and children. Pets and children are more likely to chew or play with sago palms, and ingested tca can lead to serious health complications.
Outdoor sago palms should be kept at least three feet away from septic tanks, wells, and other wells. Over time, tca evaporates through the soil and builds up in the ground around the plant’s trunk and root system.
If sago palms come into contact with high levels of tca, they can leach tca into the ground water, contaminating it.
Sources & references used in this article:
Sago Palms in the Landscape by PM Geisel, CL Unruh, PM Lawson – 2001 – escholarship.org
Sago: A Disparaged but Essential Food of the Abelam of Papua New Guinea by R Scaglion – Food, Culture & Society, 2017 – Taylor & Francis
Industrial production, processing, and utilization of sago palm-derived products by RS Singhal, JF Kennedy, SM Gopalakrishnan… – Carbohydrate …, 2008 – Elsevier
Sago-’85: The third international sago symposium Tokyo, Japan, 20–23 May 1985 by R Stanton – Agricultural Systems, 1987 – Elsevier
Inflorescence: Mapping the Development of Interdisciplinal Studies on the Sago Palm in the University of the Philippines by MJD Paluga, AMM Ragragio, MNR Bonghanoy… – 2016 – researchgate.net
Sago Palm in the Hills and the Bonda Highlanders Myths and Reality by RP Mohanty – The Oriental Anthropologist, 2013 – search.proquest.com
Growing yams and men: an interpretation of Kimam male ritualized homosexual behavior by JP Gray – Journal of homosexuality, 1986 – Taylor & Francis
Florida gardener’s guide by T MacCubbin, G Tasker – 2002 – books.google.com