Drakensberg Cycad, Encephalartos ghellinckii

Encephalartos ghellinckii is an evergreen species of cycad plant. The species is a member of the Zamiaceae family. The plant is native to KwaZulu-Natal and northern Transkei in Africa and it is found in three separate yet distinct areas. Commonly the E. ghellinckii inhabits stream banks, steep grassy slopes and sandstone outcrops. Habitats range from foothills to fairly high altitudes.

The E. ghellinckii may also be referred to as the Drakensberg Cycad. The plant may reach almost 10 feet in height and its habitat typically determines the plants characteristics. Low altitude plants exhibit stunted growth and are often blackened in coloration from grass fires. High altitude plants are heartier and have a fire-charred base. These plants have adapted a resistance to fires and charring is even said to stimulate leaf and cone production.

E. ghellinckii is yellowish-green or olive in color. Leaves are approximately 3 feet long and leaflets are narrow and measure between 3.15 and 5.5 inches. Clusters containing between 2 and 5 lemon colored cones are found on the plant; the cones are said to be pollinated mainly by beetles. Both male and female cones produce a strong chemical substance used to attract the beetles and reproduction ensues.

E. ghellinckii species produce toxin-containing seeds, which are highly poisonous. Smaller concentrations of this poisonous toxin are found throughout the plants flesh, roots, stems and leaves. It is an important adaptation used in deterring herbivores.

Image Caption: E. ghellinckii observed at Lemaire, Monk’s Cowl area, Drakensberg, South Africa. Credit: Rotational/Wikipedia