General Info

Protected Cycad may reach 7m high. Compound Leaves with parallel veins are terminal. Dioecious female Cones produce large red Seeds.



Encephalartos paucidentatus.

RSA Tree No. 11.

Family: Zamiaceae. This is a family of perennial cycads with 8 genera and about 150 species. They are only superficially palm or fern like. The cycad tap Root is soon replaced by lateral roots, which become woody. Cycads have coralloid roots that contain symbiotic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that fix atmospheric nitrogen in association with root tissue and produce important amino acids for the plant. Stems are cylindrical and southern African species do not have persistent leaf bases. All are evergreen with pinnately compound Leaves. The leaflets have parallel veins. Unlike other members of the family Zamiaceae, species in the genus Encephalartos have leaflets that lack a central Vein. Stomata are present on the lower surface and may occur above as well. All are dioecious with male and female Cones on separate plants. Female cones disintegrate at maturity releasing the Seeds. All produce poisonous glycosides (cycasins).


Cycads are unique Gymnosperms with compound leaves. Leaves are on this evergreen tree are pinnately compound (leaflets arranged along either side of the leaf rachis – central stalk). Leaves are persistent – lasting more than a year. The Crown has straight or slightly curved leaves with each longer than 1,2m and up to 2,5m in length. Plants that are growing in shade tend to have longer leaves. The spread of the leaves is about 5m. Brown woolly hairs cover the centre of the crown. Leaflets are broad, straight or slightly sickle shaped. Central leaflets are up to 3,2cm wide. The leaflet apex tapers. Leaflets point upwards at the end of the leaf and those further away bend downwards. Twenty or more distinctly parallel raised veins are visible below. Petioles (leaf stalks) are initially green but become yellow. Petiolules (leaflet stalks) are absent. The under surface of a leaflet and the leaf stalk may be hairy – especially when young. There are few or no prickles. When present, prickles occur on either side of the leaflet margins. Leaflets close to the leaf base are reduced to prickles. Leaf bases remaining on the tree after the leaves have fallen.


The tree is Dioecious (having male and female cones on separate plants). Up to 5 Male cones are formed which produce motile sperm. Each cone is up to 60cm long and covered with brown hairs. These cones are perched on a 10cm long stalk. Up to 5 large, golden yellow Female cones may be formed – each up to 50 x 25cm. They are hairy when young and produce naked ovules. Wind or insects (possibly snout beetles) pollinate them. A short stalk also supports these cones. Seeds are red and about 4 x 2,5cm.

Distribution & Ecology

These Trees occur in the mountains of eastern Mpumalanga and in North West Swaziland. They are located on mountain slopes – between 1 000 and 1 700m. Birds, monkeys and baboons collect the Fruit. After they consume the outer covering, these animals discard the seeds, thus dispersing them.


This is a popular, now Threatened cyad. A permit required for having one. These cycads require quite a lot of space. They are faster growing than most cycads and should be planted in frost-free areas and watered regularly. Choose the spot carefully because they do not relocate well.


Boon, R. 2010. Pooley’s Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.

Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.

Lawrence, G. H. M, 1951. Taxonomy of Vascular Plants, The Macmillan Company, New York. Tenth Printing 1965.

Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, Balkema, Amsterdam, Cape Town.

Schmidt, S. Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park.