If you travelled the world to areas where different cycads are native to, you would find populations where both male and females of the same cycads are flowering and coning at the same time. There are then natural elements in those regions that help to naturally pollinate the females and thus keep the species going.
However most collectors, especially in the United States, do not have multiple plants of the same species in there collection, and if they do odds are they don’t have both a male and female. Thus there is no hope to continue the line of pure species in their collection.
Often is the case, and as is with me, the result is producing hybrids between the different types. This is because while the male species of one Cycas is coning there is not a receptive female of the same type or maybe not a receptive female at all. This the pollen is collected and stored to be used at a later time when there is a flowering female, after which she can be hand pollinated.
Hybrids tend to produce characteristics of both parents in the offspring, and often times result in favorable mutations to create a new monster species within the genus (though not necessarily recognized as such). Faster growth rate, better cold hardiness and other unique features are often obtained through hybridization, and sometimes the differences are hardly noticable.
So how does one precisely hand Pollinate a cycad? My experience so far has been limited to hand pollinating my Cycas revoluta females in my collection as well as a Cycas hybrid female and Cycas multifrondis female. The key is determining when the female flower is receptive, and for the pure Cycas revoluta and hybrid were both relatively easy to figure out; the multifrondis not so much. As you can see in the pictures below, the Cycas revoluta flower literally opens wide to show shes receptive for pollen. However, as I found out last year, the female Cycas multifrondis flower did not open like this, and thus I never got to pollinate her.
So once the female is receptive, there are a couple ways to hand pollinate a cycas. The first method of hand pollination would be literally to just remove a male Cycas cone once it is releasing pollen and literally just shake and tap the cone over the female. This should be done several times and can be done over several days if time permits to ensure maximum pollination. The second method of hand pollination I use is from stored pollen. Fresh Cycas pollen can remain viable for days, even weeks when dried and stored properly. It can also be frozen and stored even longer if needed using the proper technique. Once your female cycas is receptive you then sprinkle the pollen on top of the female or fling it in with a brush to propel it into the female.
Once hand pollination of the Cycas had occured, the female flower will close back up and seeds will start to develop. Seed will be ready to harvest once the flower begins to break down and the seeds start to fall off or can be removed with little to no resistance.