This cycad has been described as one of the most unusual of all
the South African species. It has been very over-collected in the
past, but sufficient quantities are now available in nurseries to
reduce some of the pressure on wild populations.
Two forms are found in nature: a dwarf form and larger more robust,
typical form. The only difference is in the stem and leaf size,
both are shorter in dwarf form.
It is a small, low-growing cycad up to 800 mm long and 300 mm across.
The trunks branch freely, forming dense clusters of overlapping/entangled
blue-green foliage, with between 4 and 8 stems clustered together.
No other blue-leaved cycad rivals the intense blue of this cycad's
foliage. The very attractive colouring and rigid curling of the
leaves, gives it a rather unique look.
sexes bear a single cone per crown, males occasionally two in December
- January. Mature cones are bluish green in colour, the male more
blue than the female. The female cone is egg-shaped. Seeds are pale
red to carmine in colour. The male cone is sub-cylindrical, narrowed
at both ends. Leaves do not droop during coning as with some other
Distribution: Endemic to South Africa, this cycad is restricted
to the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage districts of Eastern Cape. This
is an almost frost-free area with an annual rainfall ranging from
250 mm-650 mm.
This cycad occurs in various habitats such as Karoo scrub, sourveld,
deep fertile soil and open rocky ridges. It is found in full sun.
The climate is hot in summer, cool to mild in winter with frosts
Specific name: horridus - Latin for bristly, dreadful,
horrible - appropriate to its appearance, with its heavily armed
African cycads have few enemies in nature itself. Animals such as
porcupines and baboons can cause damage to the stem and cones, because
of their feeding habits. Neither of these animals are a large threat
to cycad populations. Insects that can harm cycads are larvae of
certain moths and seed-eating snout beetles or weevils.
are immensely important to the continued survival of cycads, since
they are responsible for the pollination of these plants, carrying
pollen from one plant to another. Seed dispersal is accomplished
through birds, monkeys, baboons and in some cases even elephants.
They eat the fleshy outer cover and discard the toxic seed to germinate
where it falls. Cycads can reproduce through suckers that grow from
the mother plant.
Conservation status: This cycad is listed as Vulnerable
by the Red Data List of southern African plants (Hilton-Taylor 1996).
It is likely to become endangered in the near future if not watched
closely. Contact your local conservation authorities for permit
Growing Encephalartos horridus
This is a very hardy, adaptable, relatively slow-growing cycad
and suited to temperate and subtropical regions. It is best not
planted too closely to paths, requires full sun and excellent drainage,
not too much water; tolerates light to moderate frosts and needs
slightly acidic soil. In cultivation male cones will often cone
several times a year in succession and the dwarf nature of the plant
Propagation: From seed or removal of suckers which transplant
readily, but for your first cycad rather buy a seedling from a nursery.
They grow a lot easier and faster than those grown from seed. Experience
is also needed to grow from suckers.
Pests to be on the lookout for in southern Africa are:
Leaf parasites range from moth larvae to plant lice and can all
be rather well controlled with contact insecticides. Cone parasites
attack the cones of the cycads, mostly beetles or weevils. This
is combated by spraying the cones with insecticides just before
the cones become sexually mature and for some weeks after. Be very
careful before spraying and make sure the beetles on the plants
are actual pests and not pollinators.
Stem/trunk and root parasites: larvae from certain beetles have
been known to infiltrate the trunks of cycads causing rot to set
in, which if untreated can kill your cycad. Treatment: Systemic
insecticides and in addition, carefully cut out any infected trunk
tissue, then sterilize and seal the trunk to stop any fungal and
Certain ant and termite species are known to attack the roots and
underground part of the trunk, causing damage and leaving the plant
vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infections. Various insecticides
are available on the market to combat these problem insects.
Fungal infections: various fungicides are available to fight these
problems. Infected and even old dry leaves should be removed and
burned to stop any spores from germinating. Bacterial infections
are a more difficult matter and to date, nothing on the market has
proved to be really effective.
For information on pests in the rest of the world, please contact
your nearest nursery or cycad expert.
Legislation relating to growing cycads in South Africa
- GIDDY, C. 1974. Cycads of South Africa. Purnell, Cape
- GOODE, D. 1986. Cycads of Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- GROBBELAAR, N. 2002. Broodbome. Met spesiale verwysing na
die Suider-Afrikaanse soorte. Pretoria.
- HILTON-TAYLOR, C. 1996. Red Data List of southern African plants.
Strelitzia 4. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- JONES, D.L. 1993. Cycads of the World: ancient plants in
today's landscape. Reed, New South Wales.
- KREMPIN, J. 1990. Palms and cycads around the World.
Horwitz Grahame, Australia.
Lou- Nita Le Roux
Lowveld National Botanical Garden