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What is Dioon?

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  • Written By: Vasanth S.
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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Dioon is a plant genus consisting of palmlike shrubs that are part of the Zamiaceae family. This genus is usually divided into two groups, based on the plants' physical characteristics. The first group, which includes D. meijiae and D. rzedowskii, is characterized by large leaves, large cones and developed trunks. D. edule and D. merolae are part of the second group, which features shorter trunks, smaller leaves and tiny cones. The plants are native to Mexico and Central America and generally grow in tropical forests.

D. edule, also known as the virgin palm, is a species within the dioon genus that is used in landscaping. It can improve the exterior appearance of any house in a number of ways. D. edule reflects a tropical or desert environment, and it can take the place of palm trees when a smaller trunk is desired. Whether fitted in containers and placed at corners, or arranged in beds that border driveways and entryways, landscapers have several options when working with D. edule.

Generally, D. edule grows to 11 feet in height (3.4 m), with a trunk that can reach a foot (30.5 cm) in diameter. Each plant has about 20 feather shaped leaves that are six feet (1.8 m) in length and contain about one hundred individual leaflets. The cones produce seeds which take up to a year to ripen.

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Special care needs to be taken when handling D. edule or other species in the dioon genus. The leaflets of the virgin palm feature sharp points, which can be quite painful if the skin brushes against them. It is recommended to wear thick work gloves when gardening around the tree. Also, when planting, ensure the tree is placed an adequate distance from walking paths. Pruning is usually required if the tree foliage spreads toward walkways.

A characteristic feature of plants in the dioon genus is that the seeds are produced in pairs and are edible. In fact, the Greek translation of dioon is "two eggs", and the Greek translation of edule is "edible." Usually, the seeds are ground into small portions and cooked inside tortillas.

Plants within the dioon genus are very hardy. D. edule can survive temperatures as low as 9°F (-12.8°C) and thrive in harsh soil conditions. Nutrient deficient soils are not a concern for the slow growing D. edule, but it does require soil that is well-draining. Although the species is drought tolerant, it typically does well if the soil is moist. The plant does benefit from the application of balanced fertilizers, which typically contain an equal percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

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