T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network

Encephalartos altensteinii (Eastern Cape giant cycad) (

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Cycadophyta
Class: Cycadopsida
Order: Cycadales
Family: Zamiaceae
Genus: Encephalartos
Species: E. altensteinii
Binomial name: Encephalartos altensteinii
Common name: Eastern Cape giant cycad, Breadtree, Broodboom,

Encephalartos altensteinii (Eastern Cape giant cycad) originates from South Africa. It is endemic to the eastern Cape and south-western KwaZulu-Natal where is listed as vulnerable due to habitat destruction, use for traditional medicine and removal by collectors. The name Encephalartos is derived from the Greek, and means ‘bread in the head’. This refers to the practice of removing the pith from the cycad's stem and burying it in the ground for two months before kneading it into bread and baking it in embers. During the two-month burial, toxins within the pith are destroyed.

Eastern Cape giant cycad is long-lived and slow growing, and is popular as an ornamental plant. Young plants of this species appear trunkless, producing stiff, pinnate, palm-like leaves to 3m long with spiny bright green leaflets. Leaves are whorled forming a dense upright crown. The leaflets are rigid and fairly broad with one or both margins with a few teeth. Over time, a stout trunk grows up to seven metres tall.

At reproductive maturity separate plants bear between two to five male or female cones (>50 cm) on each stem. The large, yellowish green female cones produce numerous seeds have a red sarcotesta (a fleshy seedcoat). The cones are poisonous to humans.

Photographed at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki

The top surface of the leaflets.

The underside of leaflets.

The plants cones.

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