The Cycad Pages
GENUS  Encephalartos
K.D. Hill

Encephalartos Lehm., Pugill. 6: 14 (1834); from the Greek en, in, cephale, head, and artos, bread, in reference to the flour obtained from the trunks of some species by the indigeous tribespeople. Type: Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi Lehm.
Named by German botanist J.G.C. (Johann Georg Christian) Lehmann in 1834. All cycads except Cycas had been regarded as members of the genus Zamia until then, and some botanists continued to follow this line for many years after Lehmann had separated Encephalartos as a separate genus. His concept was originally much broader than ours today, including also the Australian plants we now know as Macrozamia and Lepidozamia.

Zamiaceae; 62 species, Africa.

Distinguishing characters:

  • Leaves pinnate
  • Leaflets lacking a midrib
  • Leaflets not articulated
  • Sporophylls not in vertical rows in cones
  • Megasporophyll apices faceted or flattened and deflexed

Select a species, or go to the key to the species
Individual species pages will have photographs, distribution maps, descriptions, literature references and general notes on the species. These are not yet all in place for all species, but the database is slowly growing. On species pages, click on thumbnail images to see full-screen images (Red dot indicates that a page has at least one image). links to images of the protologue or original description pertaining to the name.
Red dot E. aemulans
Red dot E. altensteinii
    E. aplanatus
    E. arenarius
    E. barteri
    E. brevifoliolatus
    E. bubalinus
Red dot E. caffer
Red dot E. cerinus
    E. chimanimaniensis
Red dot E. concinnus
Red dot E. cupidus
Red dot E. cycadifolius
    E. delucanus
Red dot E. dolomiticus
    E. dyerianus
    E. equatorialis
Red dot E. eugene-maraisii
Red dot E. ferox
Red dot E. friderici-guilielmi
Red dot E. ghellinckii
    E. gratus
Red dot E. heenanii
    E. hildebrandtii
    E. hirsutus
Red dot E. horridus
Red dot E. humilis
Red dot E. inopinus
    E. ituriensis
Red dot E. kisambo
Red dot E. laevifolius
Red dot E. lanatus
Red dot E. latifrons
    E. laurentianus
Red dot E. lebomboensis
Red dot E. lehmannii
Red dot E. longifolius
    E. mackenziei
    E. macrostrobilus
Red dot E. manikensis
    E. marunguensis
Red dot E. middelburgensis
Red dot E. msinganus
Red dot E. munchii
Red dot E. natalensis
Red dot E. ngoyanus
Red dot E. nubimontanus
Red dot E. paucidentatus
    E. poggei
Red dot E. princeps
    E. pterogonus
Red dot E. schaijesii
Red dot E. schmitzii
    E. sclavoi
Red dot E. senticosus
    E. septentrionalis
    E. tegulaneus
Red dot E. transvenosus
Red dot E. trispinosus
    E. turneri
Red dot E. umbeluziensis
Red dot E. villosus
    E. whitelockii
Red dot E. woodii


Habit: dioecious palmlike shrubs with often large aerial or subterranean, pachycaul, cylindrical stems, with usually many leaves and persistent leaf bases. Basal offsets ("suckers") produced by most species, aerial branching uncommon.

Leaves: pinnate, spirally arranged, interspersed with cataphylls, lower leaflets often reduced to spines. Petioles lacking prickles, usually swollen at the base, with a distinctly differently coloured collar in some species. Longitudinal ptyxis erect, horizontal ptyxis erect. Leaflets simple, frequently with spiny, dentate or lobed margins, with numerous bifurcating parallel veins and no distinct midrib, leaflets not articulated, inserted near the edges of the rhachis towards the adaxial side, lacking a differently coloured basal gland; stomata on lower surface only or on both surfaces; epidermal cells elongated parallel to long axes of leaflets. Leaves pubescent, at least when young, with branched or simple transparent hairs.

Microsporophylls: spirally aggregated into determinate, stalked or sessile male cones and each with a simple sterile apex, which is often flattened or faceted but never produced into an upturned spine. Each microsporophyll bearing numerous microsporangia (pollensacs) on its abaxial surfaces. Microsporangia opening by slits. Pollen cymbiform, monosulcate.

Megasporophylls: spirally aggregated into determinate, stalked female cones. Sporophylls simple, appearing peltate with a simple dilated apex which is often flattened or faceted but never produced into an upturned spine. Ovules two (rarely three), sessile, orthotropous, inserted on the inner (axis-facing) surface of the thickened lamina and directed inwards ("inverted").

Seeds: subglobular to oblong or ellipsoidal, with a red, yellow, orange or brown fleshy outer sarcotesta. Endosperm haploid, derived from the female gametophyte. Embryo straight; with 2 cotyledons that are usually united at the tips and a very long, spirally twisted suspensor. Seeds radiospermic; germination cryptocotular.

Try this experimental multiple-entry key based on the DELTA format.
There is a more traditional dichotomous key under development, but not yet ready.
To use this key, start with one or two characters that are clear. To refine a query, use the BACK button of your browser, return to the original query, and gradually add more characters.
Plant habit
Leaves cm long
Colour of leaves)
Leaves (gloss)
Leaves (keel)
Rachis (color in older leaves)
Rachis (curve)
Rachis (twist)
Number of prickles on one side of petiole
Leaf-base collar
Basal leaflets
Leaflet overlap
Leaflets (Lobes on bottom side)
Insertion angle (pinnae to rachis)
Upper margin
Lower margin
Median leaflets (length) cm long
Median leaflets (width) mm wide
Pollen cones (number)
Pollen cones(shape)
Pollen cones (colour)
pollen cones cm long
pollen cones cm diam.
Seed cones (number)
Seed conesshape
Seed cones (colour)
Seed cones cm long
Seed cones cm diam.

The Cycad Pages

© 1998-2012 Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Written and maintained by Ken Hill 1998-2010
Maintained by Leonie Stanberg and Dennis Stevenson 2010-2012
This site is currently not being maintained