The Gymnosperm Database


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Encephalartos laevifolius

Stapf & Burtt-Davy

Common names

Taxonomic notes


Stem branched or unbranched from the base, up to 3 m tall, with a crown of straight or slightly curving leaves. Leaves grey or silvery, woolly on the upper surface when young, middle leaflets up to 12 cm long, usually <1.3 cm broad, untoothed, with 10-12 nerves on the under surface. The rachis is often twisted in the upper portion. Cones 2 to 4, borne together, covered with short woolly hairs, up to 41 cm long, the male larger than the female. Seeds orange-yellow (Palmer & Pitman 1972).

"This species is often confused with two others, E. lanatus Stapf & Burtt Davy, of the upper parts of the catchment of the Olifants River, and E. humilis Verdoorn of mountainous country in the eastern Transvaal. The latter is dwarf, while E. lanatus usually has a trunk no more than about 3 feet (1 m) in height. Dr. Dyer points out that while E. laevifolius has 10-12 nerves on the under surface of the middle leaflets, E. lanatus has 10-14, and E. humilis about 9. Its cones are not densely woolly as are those of the dwarfer species" (Palmer & Pitman 1972).

Distribution and Ecology

South Africa: "the Kaapse Hoop Mountains and the catchment of the Crocodile River in the eastern Transvaal, and the mountainous country near the Havelock Mine in Swaziland" (Palmer & Pitman 1972).

Big tree





"The specific name means 'smooth leaves'" (Palmer & Pitman 1972).

The species is threatened by illegal collecting, as shown here (Maykuth 1998):

"NGODWANA, South Africa -- Mervyn Lotter scrambled along a trail in the Berlin State Forest, scanning the wooded slopes for cycads, an endangered plant species as old as dinosaurs.

"Two years ago, Lotter pushed through these same thorny woods near Starvation Creek and embedded microchips in 1,400 cycads to identify each plant. Now most of the palm-like cycads he had marked were gone -- dug up by thieves and sold to collectors.

"'All that is left are seedlings and a few old, dying plants,' fumed Lotter, a researcher for the Mpumalanga Province Parks Board. A few larger plants, hundreds of years old, were left broken and dead along the trail. Last week, Lotter's mission was to locate the sites where two encoded cycads had grown before they turned up 150 miles away, in the backyard of a Johannesburg landscape artist. After locating the sites with a hand-held satellite positioning device, Lotter photographed the craters as evidence in the landscape artist's trial for theft of endangered plants.

"Despite such high-tech efforts to protect the endangered species, conservation officials appear to be fighting a losing battle against cycad collectors, whose passion for the primitive species threatens to destroy the very plants they love."


Maykuth, Andrew. 13-Apr-1998. Front Page: S. Africa is trying to protect its cycads, an endangered species from the dinosaur era. Philadelphia Inquirer. Accessed online 12-Jan-1999 at

See also

Jones (1993).

Last Modified 2017-12-29