The Gymnosperm Database


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Encephalartos lehmannii


Common names

Karoo cycad (Palmer and Pitman 1972).

Taxonomic notes


"This short, sturdy, silvery-blue cycad ... seldom grows above 10 feet (about 3 m) high, the short, sturdy trunk branched or unbranched, upright or procumbent, bearing a crown of long, stiff, nearly straight leaves with the ends sometimes slightly curved backwards. The stiff, pointed leaflets are fairly broad, up to about 3/4 inch (1.9 cm) broad, and sometimes are slightly toothed on the lower margins. ... The cones are solitary, the female up to 20 inches (50 cm) long, the male shorter. The seeds are red and large - up to 2 inches (5 cm) long. The Karoo cycad is related to the tree species, E. princeps, which grows in the catchment of the Kei River, and also to the dwarfer E. trispinosus (Hook.) R.A. Dyer which occurs in the lower parts of the river valleys from the Bushman's River to the Great Fish River, and to E. horridus (Jacq.) Lehm. of the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage districts. Dr Dyer (1965) uses the type of scales of the female cones to distinguish between the species. Those of the Karoo cycad are nearly smooth; those of E. princeps warted, those of E. horridus ridged; and those of E. trispinosus wrinkled. The latter two species also have leaflets with the lower margins lobed and spiny" (Palmer and Pitman 1972).

Distribution and Ecology

South Africa: "kranses and mountain sides in the Karoo districts of Pearston and Uitenhage, westwards to Willowmore and Steytlerville, in the drainage areas of the Sundays and Groot River valleys. It is interesting to note that whereas E. princeps is usually found on dolerite, the Karoo cycad favours sandstone formations. ... Although its distribution is limited, it sometimes grows in numbers. On one mountain-side in the Pearston district well over 200 specimens have been recorded growing always in company with Maytenus undata and forms of Rhus undulata and Diospyros scabrida. ... To see this little species growing on a drought-striken mountain-side is to understand why it, and perhaps the whole cycad race, have endured through the ages. When most of the other tree species - the pruims, the cabbage trees, the witgats, the kruisbessies, the taaibos - are leafless and sometimes dead, the cycad continues to flourish luxuriantly. Drought, it seems, does not touch it" (Palmer and Pitman 1972).

Big tree




Seattle's Volunteer Park Conservatory has one.


"The flesh is eaten by dassies, and perhaps by baboons and monkeys. ... [E.] lehmannii was named after Prof J.G.C. Lehmann, a German botanist, who in 1834 published a work on cycads" (Palmer and Pitman 1972).


See also

Jones (1993).

Last Modified 2017-12-29