Root Awakening: Sweet Prayer Plant may have wind burn, Madagascar Palm needs light

Sago Palm is deficient in nutrients
Sago Palm is deficient in nutrientsPHOTO: CHUA LEE YNG
Fruit of Madeira winter cherry should not be consumed
Fruit of Madeira winter cherry should not be consumedPHOTO: MOONLAKE LEE
Create suitable growing conditions for Sweet Prayer Plant to avoid leaf burn
Create suitable growing conditions for Sweet Prayer Plant to avoid leaf burnPHOTO: LARRY CHENG

Sago Palm is deficient in nutrients

We bought this pot of baby cycas palms just before Chinese New Year and left it in our doorway, which has little light. It came with brown clay-like soil which became compacted. We put a layer of moss on it to beautify it and watered it by spraying water. After a while, we thought the moss was absorbing the water, so we removed the moss and added compost. But the leaves turned yellow. We put the plant in our balcony where it gets morning sun. Staff at the nursery told us that the issue is due to lack of water. Since then, we have been watering the plant more frequently, by pouring water gently and slowly. The plant seems to be turning even more yellow. What is wrong with it?

Chua Lee Yng

Your Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta, not a true palm) is likely to be suffering from a nutrient deficiency. It could be a case of an iron or manganese deficiency, which occurs in soil that is overly alkaline.

To determine this, use a soil pH meter to conduct a soil test.

To solve the problem, feed the plant with a water-soluble fertiliser that contains chelated iron and manganese. But this should not be a long-term solution.

The plant appears to be grown in an overly small pot with compacted soil. You may want to provide a soil mix that is conducive for plant growth, such as well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Also, move the plant into a larger pot.

You can check the pH level of the soil mix to ensure that it is in the suitable range for your plant. Organic matter in soil will acidify the soil over time.

Fruit of Madeira winter cherry should not be consumed

We bought the plant last month and are wondering if the fruit is edible. Is it a cherry tomato or a close cousin of it?

Moonlake Lee

The plant is botanically known as Solanum pseudocapsicum. Its common names include Jerusalem cherry and Madeira winter cherry.

It is a relative of the common tomato, potato and chilli and, due to its colourful fruit, it is sold as an ornamental plant for Chinese New Year.

The entire plant is documented to be mildly toxic and should not be consumed.

Create suitable growing conditions for Sweet Prayer Plant to avoid leaf burn

I bought this plant from the nursery. What is its name? It is not exposed to sunlight, but its leaf is scorched. I water it every two days and give the leaves a foliage spray once a month.

Larry Cheng

The plant is commonly known as Sweet Prayer Plant and African Serendipity Berry. Its botanical name is Thaumatococcus daniellii. The scorching of the leaves could be due to several reasons.

If the plant is grown in a high-rise apartment, the edge of the leaves may dry out due to excessive high winds. You may have to move the pot to a more protected location.

Another cause could be overly dry soil. The plant prefers to be grown in a soil mix that is rich in organic matter and kept moist at all times. It does not like to dry out completely, which can lead to the drying of leaf edges.

Watering should be thorough where water penetrates the root ball and excess water should seep from the drainage holes at the base of the pot.

How long has the plant been growing in the pot? You should check if the soil is overly compacted and if there is brown powdery fertiliser salt residue on the exterior of the pot.

A plant that has been growing in the same pot of soil for a long time can suffer from poor root health if the soil is overly compacted and when too much fertiliser residue has accumulated over time.

If the above has occurred, add good quality compost to the soil to help aerate the root zone. If fertiliser salts have accumulated, remove some soil from the root ball and repot the plant in fresh soil mix.

Madagascar Palm lacks sunlight


A part of my Madagascar Palm, which was bought several years ago, seems to be dying. The centre used to have leaves, but is now shrivelled up. What should I do?

Terence Ng

The Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium lamerei, not a true palm) appears to be lacking in light that is necessary for good health and robust growth. It thrives when grown under direct sunlight for at least six hours daily.

In an apartment, direct sunlight may be lacking and, as a result, plants will gradually weaken and die.

In your case, you may be able to save the plant if you move it to a sunny location. Remove the dead portion and leave the healthy tissue. New growth may appear with improved growing conditions.

• Answers by Dr Wilson Wong, a certified practising horticulturist and founder of Green Culture Singapore ( He is also an NParks-certified park manager.

• Have a gardening query? E-mail it with clear, high-resolution pictures of at least 1MB, if any, and your full name to

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2018, with the headline 'Root Awakening'. Print Edition | Subscribe