Cycad Alert- They Will Never Be The Same

I’m writing this post in response to the disaster that I have started seeing in the last few years. The culprit is called Cycad Blue Butterfly. It never used to be like this but in the last few years it has gone to a problem that can’t been ignored.

This is a problem for me given that I prefer not to use poisons for my own health. But cycad’s will not survive without a plan on how to care for them. I don’t know how badly they are affected in other areas, in SE Queensland and Nthn NSW it is quite bad, but viewing fact sheets to find out what it was, I noticed that they are also getting attacked there.


Native cycad with new flush of growth showing attack from moths

The problem explained. The cycad blue butterfly attacks the fresh growth as it is unfolding. You have to get onto it as soon as you can. Once it has been affected it will continue to show the ugly damaged growth once it has turned into adult foliage, and is too tough for the young caterpillars to chew.

You will notice a huge activity of blue-grey butterflies hovering around your cycad. They leave behind larvae. It is the larvae that will chew on the young fresh leaflets. They also attack the local native cycad species Lepizomia peroffskyana. In this case they will tunnel down the stem of the fresh leaf shoots, further damaging the soft tissue. They are not as extreme with this species, meaning they don’t attack every specimen, but Cycas revoluta the main focus of the butterfly, not one specimen I have seen has been left undamaged.

Cycas revoluta ( healthy new growth)(Thunb. 1782) detail of spring foliation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cycas revoluta ( healthy new growth)(Thunb. 1782) detail of spring foliation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the larvae are left to attack every flush of growth that occurs on a cycad they can deprive it of the vital chlorophyll the plants need to sustain themselves, and will lead to death.

The important question is do you want to see such a stately long lived plant that might be anything from 20 years old, in your garden die. So!

The plan. Spraying cannot not be avoided. From reading around Confidor or Imadoclorprid as the chemical is known is a systemic insecticide. From some posts there have been warnings about the use of this damaging the foliage, but it is what I have been using. Use the most diluted rates suggested on the label e.g 15 or 20 millilitres per

3Litres. The good thing about this is it is a systemic insecticide, so the insect will die both upon contact and also when it chews the leaf. In my case it suits me because I’m not also at that same garden.

Other solutions are pyrethrum based insecticides derived from natural chemicals, in this case many insects don’t like plants from the daisy family which include chrysanthemums, and marigolds. At high concentrations as they are made, they are quite effective. They will only kill on contact (not chewing) so you have to spray more frequently. Neem Oil is another natural alternative that has been mentioned that has been known to kill them.

In this case spray every 2 weeks, especially when there is new growth. If there is no new growth, spray and thoroughly wet inside the unopened crown of the plant to insure that the next flush of growth get a good start and to kill any larvae hiding there, burrowing into the top of the plant.

2 extremely natural ways that have been mentioned to kill them are vinegar and water mixture, or something I use in the garden is a commercial natural product if you can find it is a garlic-capsicum spray mixture that seems quite effective. It smells bad and don’t get the stuff in your eyes

Otherwise important, is to try to increase the health of the plant. Give it a liquid feed and good watering in dry times to try to produce a new flush of growth.

Here are some other links to check out for this curse:

45 thoughts on “Cycad Alert- They Will Never Be The Same

  • the most successful spray against blue cycad moth is Pounce 500 – I buy it at Garden Nursery Products, Arundel and have been spraying mine and my neighbours cycads for 3 years. between us we have eradicated cycad moth from the entire hill, and only spray at the very start of the first sign of new growth “popping”, then every 2-3 days (unless rain then after it’s stopped) until the new fronds are hard. with the speed they grow, this is usually complete in 2 weeks, and no more spraying till next season. recently we’ve had two new flushes in the last 12 months and they are all super healthy. wishing you all success – john kiss mudgeeraba

  • my cycad has no new growth, the centre is very soft and mushy to touch, has been that way for some time, i have sprayed it, no moths are to be seen, can i save this tree, is it in danger?

    • Hi Karon It’s now dead You can cut the old trunk and look after the pups that will shoot off the side

  • This article is really helpful. I have the caterpillar/moth damaged stems now and wonder whether i can trim them off?

  • I used flyspray daily to kill the butterflies, then eggs, then caterpillars, it helped, but I still lost the new growth.
    I then used confider tablets, still lost new growth.
    I tried chilli spray, no good.
    Despite fighting these blue moths and grubs for years, I can never remember when the new growth time starts, can you tell me?
    Also, what is the best fertiliser for the cycads to help them?, and should I cut off the stripped (eaten) fronds?

  • I tried Confidor spray to no avail and ended up squashing every grub i could find. Now I’ve got a few leads on the sprays that may help. Good luck to everyone who loves their cycads…

    • It’s hard to say if the technique used was correct, but it is important to spray both sides of the fronds. Also it’s no point spraying an already damaged frond. The damage has already been done it will never recuperate

  • Hi Jack, I am in Parkwood and have had the same problem as others. My husband found Yates Rose Gun works a treat !!!! Ours are just all sprouting now and I saw moths yesterday so out came the Rose Gun. We spray each night and it does not seem to burn the plants at all. Hopefully we have hit it early enough so we dont get the damage caused as in previous years. Good luck !!

  • I have noticed that cycads growing near the sea aren’t affected. Is this because of temperature, wind or salt spray? Would spraying with salt solution deter the Butterflies?

  • After trying years of various poisons – to no success, I now just use mosquito netting (queen size bed) & this stops the moth getting in, and no need for poison. Once the new growth is hard enough & moths are no longer interested, I remove the netting. I still remain vigilant to kill any odd moth that does manage to find it’s way in. and also rejig the netting as the new growth gets bigger. The objective is to not let the netting touch the new growth. This has been my approach for the last few years. Much less labour time involved, and no expense on poisons.

  • I have used yates sucess ultra in its lowest concentration. It killed on contact and the eggs. I also use an organic fertilizer Dr Grow it all and have managed to keep new growth. The fertilizer seems to work like a surface spray the moths are not landing now.

  • hi there all, i have started using CONFIDOR, after speaking to a guy who works in our local Bunnings store, he told me to start early in spraying due to the fact the plant absorbs the spray and then excreeds its back out, to keep the blue away, but only in the late of day and stop spraying as soon as the full length of fronds is attained.

    • Yes when it is at full length it has hardened and is not chewable anymore to the moths. Spray them when they just appear you can water the centre with watering can. As they get bigger be mindful to spray the whole top side and under side of the frond to make sure they don’t eat it. A properly covered leaf does not get eaten

  • ours was originally under a tree and i think the microcosm of birds and pests were in balance; the cycad was unaffected when others on our street were, once the tree was removed the moths took over.

  • This year I put a net around mine when the new sprout came and so far it has worked a treat not a moth in sight, last year they distroyed it so I cut it back and just waited for new sprout. it’s the best it’s ever looked at the moment, I just don’t know when I should take the netting down?

    • Whenever the new shoots have hardened the moths can’t eat them and therefore do damage to them. So at this stage you can take them off and whenever you see new shoots put it back on again, until they have fully grown and hardened

  • I use Yates Success to great success. Unfortunately you do have to re-spray after any rain, (or heavy dew) and it’s an ongoing battle for about two to three weeks a year, but saving the fronds intact on my cycads seems worth it.
    My neighbours are less vigilant and all their plants show severe damage.
    I keep a mixture at the ready in a knapsack and hit the fronds every couple of days.
    I have also experimented with using a systemic applied first and allowed to be absorbed and then spraying later with the Success.
    NOT the other way round or you will wash the Success off!

  • I am having similar problems in Port Douglas, both brown grubs and small beatles. This flush has had small clear and sticky eggs deposited each morning and I am manually removing them when I can see them but the damage has been done. I will try the Confidor now but any suggestions as to the culprit! I have not seen any butterfly or insect to help me.


  • Im up in FNQ and have the same problem. I’m going to give the Confidor spray a go. I have noticed black beetles eating the new foliage as well over the last couple of seasons which hopefully the spray will get rid of. Someone suggested setting fire to the cycad to get rid of all the nasties nesting on the outside of it. Has anyone tried this? Sounds extreme and I don’t want to lose the tree. Let me know.

  • Thanks for all your comments guys. Just noticed this problem today. Just over night. I sprayed each of the grubs with pyrethrum and then with metho and collected them. So far, they look dead. I will have a look again in a few hours. Now I know what to do next time. Netting sounds good. Nasty looking larvae they are… but I think because they are so fleshy, the contact sprays work. Good luck everyone and happy gardening. From Burrum Heads Qld

  • In Brisbane I’ve had cycads completely devoured.
    A frequent recommendation is Confidor but I notice it’s a ‘neonicotinoid’ pesticide, attributed to bee population collapse, including native bees, so I won’t be buying that one again. Apparently it will be taken off of retail shelves in the near future, in Australia.
    Hoping to find a better solution!

  • I sprayed my cycad with neem oil last week. I went to spray again today as we’ve had rain and all the new growth is dried up. Is it possible the neem oil caused more damage than the moths?

    • I just read that neem oil has been known to kill some plants, so it says to do test sprays and follow the recommended dilution rates

  • I have over 30 of the native cycads and its quite a chore to spray every new flush of leaves on both sides. The moth larvae even hatch on one single leaf and will strip in bare if somehow it didn’t get sprayed. I also have 6 the sago palm, cycads revoluta which Im just about to give up on because the moth prefers these. They are a reminder for me to start spraying the native cycads and I usually let larvae have a chew go on the these then spray them.

    • These are native to Australia, and used to attack only native Cycads until they decided that Cycas revoluta was fair game

  • where do these moths come from? i have cycads for close to 18 years and never had problems before some 8 years ago when it started. is this an other introduced species?

  • Hi, I have been using Mortein outdoor spider spray on my cycads and it has been working a treat. I would spray once a week on new growth. It didn’t wash off and stopped blue butterfly larvae in their tracks and had no detrimental effects on the new growth – other products I tried made the fronds grow deformed or become yellowed. The active ingredients are Deltamethrin and Imiprothrin. Unfortunately Mortein have discontinued this product. Yates tells me that Yates Success Ultra is the way to go. Has anyone ever used this product?

    • Anything that has a thrin ending is a synthetic pyrethroid from daisy plants. There are many formulations but these can also work

  • I grow African & Sth American Cycads like Encephalartos ferox and Zamia vasquezii and don’t have a problem with moths, and yet my neighbors Cycas Revoluta are totally destroyed. My advice is keep away from Cycas Revoluta and grow something different. There are hundreds of cycad species available from specialty nurseries in each state.

      • Yates success from bunnies is what I use and it works well. 5 ml to 500 ml of water in a spray bottle. As soon as I see new growth activity at the centre, that is, when the spikey part protrudes about 50 mm, is when I get more vigilant. It will throw the new shoots overnight, this is when I spray. So the new shoots are 50 mm above the spikes and they are then protected. Watch them daily and spray again when they unfold. You need to check them daily. I have a dozen, no big deal to look after. I don’t spray both sides, just the very new centre and be vigilant. Here on the Sunshine Coast the moths were late this year. I still have 4 to throw and moths have arrived, so out with the Yates success.

  • I used yates pyrethrum last year, however it just killed the new growth, the fronds shrivelled up and died. What might i have done wrong? (I’m not sure what species of cycad mine are, amatuer gardener here!)

  • You’re a good man Paul / thank you . I have collected cycads my whole life i have seventeen different types and have found over the last three to four years they will attack ALL genus if there are no revoluta . It’s heart breaking, i cant enjoy my garden. I’m going to follow some tips given here / thanks Paul for addressing this curse / thanks for the feedback everyone.

  • I have little beetles on my new growth of cycaids. Are they a pest also & how do you treat them or do they do good to the plant

  • Hi, I found grubs in the sprouting centre of my newly established cycad. Sprayed inside the new growth which killed them but hasn’t resprouted for months. Can I trim away the damaged growth in the middle to try and get it to grow again?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *