Cycad (Encephalartos latifrons)

Encephalartos latifrons mature plant
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Cycad fact file

Cycad description

GenusEncephalartos (1)

Encephalartos latifrons is a spectacular member of the cycad family Zamiaceae, and also one of the rarest, with less than 100 individuals remaining in the wild (1) (2) (4) (5). A striking feature of this tall-growing species is the drooping dead leaves that surround the top of the stem like a brown ‘skirt’ (5). The leaves are dark, glossy green with broad leaflets, hence the specific name, latifrons, which derives from the Latin words for ‘broad’ and ‘leaf’ (2) (6). The stems may grow singly, but more usually branch from the base, and, like all cycads, are mainly comprised of soft, pithy storage tissue protected by a hard layer of old leaf bases (7). The sexes are borne on separate plants (7), with each stem producing one to three olive-green cones. The male cones are cylindrical in shape while the female cones are barrel-shaped (2) (5)

Stem height: up to 4.5 m (2)

Cycad biology

Cycads are long-lived, slow growing plants that always occur as individual male or female plants (6) (7). There is no way of determining the sex of a cycad until it begins to produce its first cone (7). For a long time cycads were thought, like cone-producing conifers, to be entirely wind pollinated (8). However, studies now suggest that the vast majority, if not all cycads, are actually pollinated by insects or more specifically weevils (6) (7) (8). To attract pollinators, male and female cones produce powerful odours, usually in the early morning or evening (7). Travelling between the sexes, the weevils pollinate the plants by inadvertently transferring pollen from the male cones to the receptive ovules of the female cones (7) (9).

The seeds produced by cycads are large and have a fleshy outer coat, but are relatively short-lived and vulnerable to desiccation. The fleshy outer layer is desirable to a range of animals such as birds, rodents and bats, depending on the species of cycad and region it occupies. However, with any luck the unpalatable seed is discarded some distance away from the parent plant in a hospitable environment in which to germinate (6).


Cycad range

Encephalartos latifrons occurs in small and extremely isolated populations in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa (1) (4) (5)


Cycad habitat

Found amongst scrub vegetation on rocky slopes and outcrops (1) (2) (5)


Cycad status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Cycad threats

The few remaining wild specimens of E. latifrons are so widely scattered that seed-production is non-existent, making this species functionally extinct in the wild (2) (5). Although its modern scarcity is at least partly attributable to habitat loss and the unscrupulous activities of collectors, this species is thought to have already been naturally rare long before humans had a significant impact on its environment (2) (4) (5).


Cycad conservation

Although E. latifrons is scarce in the wild, numerous specimens are known to occur in public and private collections (4). Fortunately, owing to its listing on Appendix I of CITES, all trade in this species is prohibited, unless under exceptional circumstances (3). In an effort to increase the number of individuals occurring in the wild, a propagation project is being developed with the cooperation of commercial farmers in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The aim is to set up a seed nursery for E. latifrons using seed collected from wild pants that have been artificially pollinated (4).


Find out more

For further information on Encephalartos latifrons and the conservation of cycads in South Africa see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



The beginning of growth, usually following a period of dormancy and in response to favourable conditions. For example, the sprouting of a seedling from a seed
A structure within the female reproductive organs of plants that contains eggs and when fertilized by pollen, develops into seeds.
To transfer pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
Animals that in the act of visiting a plant's flowers transfer pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)
  2. The Cycad Society of South Africa (December, 2009)
  3. CITES (December, 2009)
  4. Donaldson, J.S. (2003) Cycads, status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN/SSC-Cycad Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  5. PlantZAfrica (December, 2009)
  6. The Cycad Pages (December, 2009)
  7. Whitelock, L.M. (2002) The Cycads. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  8. Jolivet, P. (2005) Cycads and beetles: recent views on pollination. The Cycad Newsletter, 28: 3-7.
  9. Donaldson, J.S. (1997) Is there a floral parasite mutualism in cycad pollination? The pollination biology of Encephalartos villosus (Zamiaceae). American Journal of Botany, 84: 1398 - 1406.

Image credit

Encephalartos latifrons mature plant  
Encephalartos latifrons mature plant

© Nhu Nguyen

Nhu Nguyen
Tel: 225-266-5918


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