Lebombo cycad (Encephalartos senticosus)

Encephalartos senticosus cones
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Lebombo cycad fact file

Lebombo cycad description

GenusEncephalartos (1)

Described in 1996 after it was split from Encephalartos lebomboensis (2) (4), the Lebombo cycad is one of the most cultivated cycads in South Africa (5) (6). The Lebombo cycad grows up to four metres tall and produces as many as eight stems from a single plant (2). Like all cycads, the stems are mainly comprised of soft, pithy storage tissue protected by a hard layer of old leaf bases (7). The bright green leaves may reach up to 1.5 metres long, and are typically recurved towards the tips (2) (4). Whereas E. lebomboensis usually only has solitary cones, or sometimes pairs, the Lebombo cycad may have multiple cones to a stem (2) (6), with up to four, orange-yellow cones on male plants, and up to three, apricot-yellow cones on female plants (2).

Encephalartos lebomboensis.
Height: up to 4 m (2)

Lebombo cycad biology

Cycads are long-lived, slow growing plants that always occur as individual male or female plants (4) (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 (4) (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 (4).


Lebombo cycad range

Encephalartos senticosus occurs in the Lebombo Mountains of north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland (1) (2).


Lebombo cycad habitat

Found in dry shrubby scrub on rocky slopes and cliffs (4).


Lebombo cycad status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Lebombo cycad threats

Like many other South Africa cycad species, the Lebombo cycad is most threatened by illegal harvesting (2) (10).


Lebombo cycad conservation

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures in place for the Lebombo cycad, but it is known to occur in several protected reserves (2), and is listed on Appendix I of CITES, which permits trade only under exceptional circumstances (3).


Find out more

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



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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.
Structures within the female reproductive organs of plants that contain eggs and when fertilized by pollen, develop 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 (January, 2010)
  2. Threatened Plant Conservation Unit (2004) A Management Plan For Cycads In Kwazulu-Natal. Biodiversity Conservation Advice Division, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Available at:
  3. CITES (January, 2010)
  4. The Cycad Pages (January, 2010)
  5. Kirsten, K. (2001) Gardening with Keith Kirsten. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  6. PlantZAfrica (January, 2010)
  7. Whitelock, L.M. (2002) The Cycads. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  8. Jolivet, P. (2010) 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.
  10. Donaldson, J.S. (2003) Cycads, status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN/SSC-Cycad Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Image credit

Encephalartos senticosus cones  
Encephalartos senticosus cones

© Palmbob / Geoff Stein

Palmbob / Geoff Stein


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