© Nat Grobbelaar
This unusual, attractive African cycad (comparable to the Mexican
companion Dioon or a Cuban Microcycas) tolerates both
sun and frost, making it a very desirable garden plant. It is threatened
in the wild, so please be sure to obtain plants from cultivated
stock and reputable suppliers if you wish to grow it..
are single or multistemmed (3-8 stems) and grow up to 2 m in height,
sometimes up to 4 m in length for those with a procumbent (lying
on the ground without rooting) growth habit. Plants have a distinctive
bluish green foliage, covered with a silver powdery bloom. Male
plants can produce up to five cones per crown, whereas the female
plants produce between 1 and 3 cones per crown. Female cones are
bluish green when young, becoming greenish yellow when mature; male
cones remain a bluish colour, similar to the leaves, even at maturity.
Plants sucker freely.
Lydenburg cycads are naturally restricted to Mpumalanga in South
Africa and grow in sparse to thick deciduous bush, within deep gorges,
among the dolomite rock. Plants are found in the valleys of the
Olifants and Steelpoort Rivers. Plants grow well in semi-shade and
full sun and are relatively frost hardy.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Encephalartos inopinus was originally discovered in 1955
in Lydenburg, South Africa where a sucker was obtained from the
mother plant, and then taken to Johannesburg for cultivation. In
1964, after the second collection was made, Dr R.A. Dyer, a former
director of the Botanical Research Institute, described this magnificent
and remarkable cycad species.
The word Encephalartos comes from the Greek words en
= in, cephale = a head, and artos = bread, and refer
to the starchy material in the trunks of some species which is used
for food. The Latin word inopinus means unexpected, a reference
to the type locality, Onverwacht Farm (Dutch = unexpected), and
to the fact that the discovery of a cycad species at that time,
was unexpected among the South African botanical fraternity.
The caterpillar of the leopard magpie moth (Zeronopsis leopardina),
feed on newly formed leaves from the suckers of E. inopinus,
resulting in stunted growth. Baboons are reported to destroy the
immature female cones of Lydenburg cycads, thus jeopardizing any
chance of seed formation in their natural habitat. This and unscrupulous
collecting have resulted in this plant being very endangered in
the wild. Cultivation is recommended as an alternative to ensure
Growing Encephalartos inopinus
are well suited to temperate and subtropical climates. They make
good garden subjects on their own or can be mixed with aloes, euphorbias
and any other succulent plants to create a water-wise garden in
full sun. Furthermore, they are fascinating if grown together with
palms and herbaceous perennials where a tropical effect is desired.
They are ideal pot plants, and remain admirable for their entire
Propagation of E. inopinus is easy from seeds or suckers.
For more details about growing cycads from seed see Encepharlatos
Lydenburg cycads require a minimal amount of water and unfortunately
are more vulnerable to rot infection than most other cycad species.
The rainfall in their natural environment is about 375 mm per year,
mainly in summer. Improve soil drainage or grow these cycads on
a slope, as they are often found in nature, to prevent rot.
Legislation relating to growing cycads in South Africa
Referencesand further reading
- Giddy, C. 1974. Cycads of South Africa. Purnell, Cape
- Goode, D. 2001. Cycads of Africa, vol. 1. D&E Cycads
of Africa,. GalloManor
- Grobbelaar, N. 2002. Cycads. Published by the author,
- Krempin, J. 1990. Palms and cycads around the world.
Horwitz Grahame, Australia.
- Osborne, R. 1993. The cycad collection of the Durban Botanic
Gardens. Parks Department, Durban.
- Von Breitenbach, J. & Von Breitenbach, F. 1992. Tree
atlas of southern Africa. Dendrological Foundation, Pretoria.
Tovhowani Mukoma & Lou Nita Le Roux
Lowveld National Botanical Garden