A robust, tall growing species with deep green glossy leaves, leaflets held in a V and yellow cones, very closely allied to E. altensteinii, E. lebomboensis and E. woodii. E. natalensisis distinguished in this group by the straight rachis, the broad, well-spaced leaflets usually lacking prickles but sometimes with with 1-3 prickles on each margin, the basal leaflets reducing to spines, leaving no bare petiole, and the dense woolly tomentum in the crown around newly emerging leaves.

Plants arborescent; stem 6 m tall, 25-40 cm diam.

Leaves 150-300 cm long, light or bright green, highly glossy, slightly keeled to flat in section (opposing leaflets inserted at 150-180° on rachis); rachis green, straight, stiff, not spirally twisted; petiole straight, with 6-12 prickles; leaf-base collar not present; basal leaflets reducing to spines.

Leaflets ovate, strongly discolorous, not overlapping, not lobed, insertion angle obtuse (45-80°); margins flat; upper margin entire (no teeth), or lightly toothed (1-3 teeth); lower margin entire (no teeth), or lightly toothed (1-3 teeth); median leaflets 15-25 cm long, 25-40 mm wide.

Pollen cones 1-5, narrowly ovoid, yellow, 45-50 cm long, 10-12 cm diam.

Seed cones 1-5, ovoid, yellow, 50-60 cm long, 25-30 cm diam.

Seeds oblong, 25-30 mm long, 16-18 mm wide, sarcotesta red.

Distribution & Habitat

South Africa: "Cape-Natal border to northern Natal. Unlike E. altensteinii which it closely resembles, it is found in inland areas only. Its best-known setting is the gorge below the Howick Falls near Pietermaritzburg where, from the vantage point above, its palm-like leaves may be distinguished on the densely wooded slopes. ... A group of these trees in the Valley of a Thousand Hills has been proclaimed a National Monument" (Palmer & Pitman 1972).



Common Names: Natal cycad, giant cycad; isiGqiki-somkhovu, umNgquabe (Zulu). The name isiGqiki-somkhovu is applied generally to Encephalartos species with trunks. More than a century ago a Natal botanist described one of these trees with a girth of 9 feet (2.7 m) and a trunk measuring 16 feet (4.8 m) before branching. He noted that one trunk filled a whole wagon" (Palmer & Pitman 1972).

Described in 1951 by South African botanists R. Allen Dyer and Inez Verdoon.

References & Acknowledgements:

  • Images -
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney



Encephalartos natalensis