Photo Ken Hill
The Cycad Pages
Cycas nathorstii

Cycas nathorstii J. Schust., "Pflanzenr. 99: 76, fig. 10e" (1932).
"TYPE: Sri Lanka, 1866, Thwaites 3689 in Herb. Barbey-Boisser (holo G (photo NSW); iso A, K, LE, P)."

Etymology: Honouring Swedish palaeobotanist Alfred Gabriel Nathorst (1850-1921), professor at the Natural History Museum in Stockholm.

Historical notes: The upland cycad from Sri Lanka has been generally known as C. circinalis (Trimen 1898), and was in fact one element of the protologue of the latter (Linnaeus 1753; Fl. Zel.). German historian and sometime botanist Julius Schuster distinguished this taxon in 1932 on the basis of specimens collected by Thwaites and distributed to European herbaria by Swiss botanist and philanthropist William Barbey-Boissier (1842-1914). Schuster's work has been largely (rightly) ignored, including this taxon, although, in this case, a valid distinction exists. Collection detail cited was "Ceylon: Thwaites 1866 n. 3689 in Herb. Barbey-Boissier." The Barbey-Boissier herbarium and types are in G, including this specimen. This may not have been the specimen examined by Schuster, as it has no annotation by him and was filed as undetermined. Schuster's types were mainly in B, and were destroyed during WW2. This sheet includes both leaflets and megasporophylls, and has been designated the lectotype. George Thwaites (1812-1882) was superintendent of the Royal Botanic Garden at Peradeniya in Ceylon from 1849-1880, and his main collections are now in K and PDA.

De Laubenfels and Adema (1998) included C. nathorstii in the synonymy of C. sphaerica, but also placed some Sri Lankan collections of the same taxon in C. circinalis.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished from C. circinalis and C. sphaerica of the Indian mainland by the more robust habit, wider leaflets and larger male cones with longer and more curved apical spines on microsporophylls. Megasporophyll apices of C. nathorstii are narrowly triangular with numerous fine lateral spines extending almost to the very tip, whereas the Indian species possess broader apices with a distinct extended apical spine that is free from lateral teeth. C. nathorstii is distinguished from C. zeylanica, the other species occurring in Sri Lanka, by the more closely spaced and more chartaceous leaflets, the shorter, softer and less pilose cataphylls and lack of spongy endocarp.

Distribution and habitat: Known only from Sri Lanka, where it occurs in inland and upland forests in the north of the island, usually in somewhat drier sites.

Conservation status: Still locally frequent, although not in great numbers, this species is regarded as vulnerable. IUCN (1994) Red List status VU ?A2c.

Vernacular: Madu
Isosyntypes (P)


Stems arborescent.

Leaves bright green, semiglossy, 160-180 cm long, flat (not keeled) in section (opposing leaflets inserted at 180° on rachis), with 140-170 leaflets, tomentum shedding as leaf expands. Petiole 45-55 cm long (25-30% of total leaf), petiole glabrous, spinescent for 90-95% of length. Basal leaflets not gradually reducing to spines.

Median leaflets simple, weakly discolorous, 190-310 mm long, 9-14 mm wide, narrowed to 3-4 mm at base (to 25-35% of maximum width), 17-20 mm apart on rachis; median leaflets section flat; margins flat; apex softly acuminate, not spinescent; midrib raised above, raised below.

Cataphylls narrowly triangular, soft, thinly sericeous or lacking tomentum, 50 mm long, persistent.

Pollen cones narrowly ovoid, orange; microsporophyll lamina firm, not dorsiventrally thickened, 30-40 mm long, 15-22 mm wide, apical spine prominent, gradually raised, 10 mm long.

Megasporophylls 15-30 cm long, brown-tomentose; ovules 6-10, glabrous; lamina lanceolate, 40-65 mm long, 18-25 mm wide, obscurely dentate, with 26-40 pungent lateral spines 1-4 mm long, 1 mm wide, apical spine distinct from lateral spines, 10-14 mm long.

Seeds flattened-ovoid; sarcotesta yellow; fibrous layer present; sclerotesta smooth. Spongy endocarp absent.

The Cycad Pages

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Written and maintained by Ken Hill 1998-2010
Maintained by Leonie Stanberg and Dennis Stevenson 2010-2012
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