Cycads are members of an ancient group of plants that are known to have pre-dated the dinosaurs, occurring in the Permian era, more than 200 million years ago (4). Although cycads were once very widespread, today they are greatly reduced in range and numbers (4). The 250 or so species that survive today are ‘living fossils’, the last representatives of a group of great evolutionary significance (5) (4). The name of the genus Encephalartos means ‘bread in the head’, and was given to these plants as some of the species contain starch in their seeds and stems (5). Cycads have divided leaves reminiscent of palms or tree-ferns, but this similarity is only superficial, as cycads differ greatly in terms of structure and biology (4). Cycads are woody plants, but they have a thick, soft stem or trunk that contains very little true wood, but comprises mainly of storage tissues (4).
The specific name of the dwarf cycad, humilis, means humble or lowly, referring to the diminutive size of the plant (2). This dwarf species has a very short ‘trunk’ and twisted dark green leaves that are composed of smooth-edged individual leaflets (2). Plants are either male or female. In male plants, brown, narrow pollen cones are produced from modified leaves, the undersides of which feature many pollen sacs (2) (5). In female plants, the reproductive organs are also derived from leaves and take the form of brown ‘seed cones’ (2) (5).
- Leaf length: 30 - 50 cm (2)
- Stem height: 0.3 m (2)
- Stem diameter: 20 cm (2)