This cycad is said to be one of the most popular cycads in cultivation,
although there is some confusion about its identity. Several populations
of what were previously regarded as E. lebomboensis are now
regarded as E. senticosus, including most of those found
on the Lebombo Mountains.
E.lebomboensis was first described in 1949 by Dr Inez Verdoorn.
Its centre of distribution was the Lebombo Mountains, stretching
from northern KwaZulu-Natal through Swaziland and up into Mpumalanga.
In 1995 Dr Piet Vorster re-named the plants from the central part
of the geographic range (the Lebombo range from 50 km north of Siteki
in Swaziland to the Josini Dam/Pongolapoort Dam in Kwazulu-Natal)
as E. senticosus, based mainly on differences in their cones.
It was from this latter site, when the dam was developed in the
1960s, that many cycads were collected and entered the nursery trade
as E. lebomboensis, although they are now E. senticosus..
Today E. lebomboensis is described as occuring in two areas,
although this view is debated by some. There is a northern form
around Mananga in Mpumalanga and a southern form centred around
Piet Retief on the upper Pongola River Valley. Both forms are commonly
found in cultivation and are easily obtainable at nurseries.
This is a medium to large cycad with stems which can grow to 4 m
long. It is often procumbent with a crown of light to dark green,
glossy leaves. It grows singly or in clumps of up to eight stems.
It forms numerous suckers from the base and occasional offsets on
the trunks. Stems of the Piet Retief form are shorter and stouter.
E.lebomboenesis- Piet Retief form (Photo:
The differences between the forms are slight, with the Piet Retief
form having narrower leaflets and female cones which are usually
solitary, barrel-shaped and greeny- cream, as opposed to more apricot
yellow, egg-shaped cones of the Mananga form.
Mananga form of E. lebomboensis (Photo:Johan
According the Vorster 1996, the main differences between E.
lebomboensis and E. senticosus lie in the different shaped
cone scales and that in E. lembonensis both male and female
are usually solitary, although female cones are sometimes paired
in the Mananga form, whereas E. senticosus has multiple cones.
Male cones are sessile in E. lebomboensis, as opposed to
having stalks/ peduncles in E. senticosus.
In E. lebomboensis female cones are apricot yellow, or light
green and have flat cone scales. They are egg-shaped, (or barrel-shaped
in the Piet Retief form), 400-450 mm long, 250-300 mm in diameter.
Seedcoats (sarcotesta) are bright red.
Male cones are narrowly cylindrical, about 450 mm long and 120-150
mm in diameter and yellow to apricot in colour. The sporophyll faces
are raised, but not drawn out and drooping.
As mentioned earlier, E. lebomboenesis is centred in two
separate locations in Swaziland and Mpumalanga i.e on the Lebombo
Mountains around Mananga in what was formerly known as Kangwane
and further south around Piet Retief. All forms grow on the slopes
of high ridges and cliffs along river valleys. They grow in full
sun. Climate is hot in summer with a rainfall of 625-750 mm and
cool with frequent fogs and mists in winter (Whitelock 2002).
lebomboensis means 'of Lebombo' and refers to the Lebombo
For more about the ecology of cycads in general please see Encephalartos
This cycad was listed as Rare to Vulnerable by the Red Data
List of southern African plants (Hilton-Taylor 1996). It is now
regarded as Critically Endangered, especially the Mananga
Growing Encephalartos lebomboensis
This cycad is suited to tropical and warm temperature regions.
It is easily grown, hardy in full sun or light shade, relatively
fast growing and transplants easily. It requires excellent drainage
and may be damaged by heavy frosts, but can withstand light frosts.
This cycad can be grown from seed or from the removal of suckers
which transplant readily.
For more about the pests of cycads, please see Encephalartos
When obtaining cycads for your garden, please be sure to buy from
reputable sources and guard against doing anything that might endanger
wild populations of these plants.
Legislation relating to growing /owning cycads in South Africa
- GIDDY, C. 1974. Cycads of South Africa. Purnell, Cape
- GOODE, D. 1986. Cycads of Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- GOODE, D. 2001. Cycads of Africa, vol. 1. D & E Cycads
of Africa, Gallomanor
- 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.
- JONES, D.L. 2002. Cycads of the World: Ancient plants
in today's landscape. Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C..
- KREMPIN, J. 1990. Palms and Cycads around the World.
Horwitz Grahame, Australia.
- VORSTER, P. 1996. Encephalartos senticosus (Zamiaceae): a new
species from Northern KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland. SA Journal
of Botany 62(2)76-79.
- VORSTER, P. 1995. The identity of Encephalartos lebomboensis
in Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Cycad
Biology. Stellenbosch 1995.
- CLAASSEN, I. 2000.Focus On Encephalartos Senticosus P.Vorster.
- WHITELOCK, L.M. 2002. The cycads. Timber Press, Portland.
- GOLDING, J. S. and HURTER, P. J. H, 2003. A red data list of
Africa's cycads and implications of considering life-history and
threats.Biodiversity and Conservation 12: 507-528
Lou-Nita Le Roux
Lowveld National Botanical Garden
With additions by Yvonne Reynolds
Yvonne Reynolds would like to thank Dr Piet Vorster,
Dr John Donaldson, De Wet Bosenberg and Johann Hurter for their
assistance with this article.