White-haired cycad (Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi)

White-haired cycad bearing cones
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White-haired cycad fact file

White-haired cycad description

GenusEncephalartos (1)

An attractive, stout stemmed species, the white-haired cycad may branch from the base, or alternatively produce just a single stem (2). Despite their woody appearance, like all cycads, the stems are mainly comprised of soft, pithy storage tissue protected by a hard layer of old leaf bases (4). As the stems grow in height, they tend to lean over to settle on the ground, with just the crown curving upwards. The crown of the stem is covered with loose, brown wool, with the leaves held open at an angle of 45 degrees to the stem. The young leaves are soft and light bluish-green, but with age take on a more yellowish colour. No other species in the genus bears as many cones as the white-haired cycad, with the male plant able to produce as many as twelve cones, and the female plant up to six (2) (5).

Stem diameter: 35 - 60 cm (2)
Stem height: up to 4 m (2)

White-haired cycad biology

Cycads are long-lived, slow growing plants that always occur as individual male or female plants (4) (6). There is no way of determining the sex of a cycad until it begins to produce its first cone (4). For a long time cycads were thought, like cone-producing conifers, to be entirely wind pollinated (7). However, studies now suggest that the vast majority, if not all cycads, are actually pollinated by insects or more specifically weevils (4) (6) (7). Indeed the primary pollinator of the white-haired cycad is a weevil that occurs on no other species (8) (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).

White-haired cycad range

The white-haired cycad occurs in the districts of Cathcart and Queenstown, in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa (1).


White-haired cycad habitat

The white-haired cycad is found in grassland and open shrubland on rocky ridges (1) (2).


White-haired cycad status

The white-haired cycad is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


White-haired cycad threats

The white-haired cycad, like many other South African cycads, is declining due to the over-collection of specimens from the wild (10).


White-haired cycad conservation

Although there are no specific conservation measures in place for the white-haired cycad, this species is listed on Appendix I of CITES, which permits trade only under exceptional circumstances (3).


Find out more

For further information on the white-haired cycad and 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.
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 (November, 2009)
  3. CITES (December, 2009)
  4. Whitelock, L.M. (2002) The Cycads. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  5. PlantZAfrica (November, 2009)
  6. The Cycad Pages (December, 2009)
  7. Jolivet, P. (2005) Cycads and beetles: recent views on pollination. The Cycad Newsletter, 28: 3-7.
  8. Suinyuy T.N., Donaldson J.S., Johnson S.D. (2009) Insect pollination in the African cycad Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi Lehm. South African Journal of Botany, 75(4): 682-688.
  9. Downie, D.A. and Williams, J.G. (2009) Population Structure of Porthetes hispidus (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), a Pollinator of the African Cycad Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 102(6): 1126-1134.
  10. Donaldson, J.S. (2003) Cycads, status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN/SSC-Cycad Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Image credit

White-haired cycad bearing cones  
White-haired cycad bearing cones

© Peter Steyn / www.ardea.com

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