The Lebombo Cycad, Encephalartos lebomboensis

The Lebombo cycad (Encephalartos lebomboensis) is a cycad species plant. The species belongs to the Zamiaceae family. This plant was first discovered and named in 1949 by Dr. Inez Verdoorn in South Africa. The Lebombo cycad can be found in two distinct areas, one in the Mpumalanga province and one in the upper Pongola River Valley, in South Africa.

The Lebombo cycad grows up to 13 feet tall and its trunk has a diameter of approximately 12 inches across. The plant branches off halfway up its stem. Leaves are between 39 and 59 inches long and stiff. Coloration on the leaves surface is dark green with a glossy, smooth finish. The leaf under side is a slightly more pale color and has a matte finish. Young leaves have a dense hairy covering that will shed as the leaf matures. Leaflets are narrow and measure about 7 inches long; it may or may not have a slight curl inward. The plant’s leaflets have a serrated or toothed edge.

As with most cycad species, the Lebombo cycad is a dioecious species. This means plants are either male or female. Male plants produce cylindrical cones measuring 16 to 18 inches long. Its cones are a yellow/orange color. Female plants have a yellowish-green coloration in its cones. Female cones are generally the same size as male cones however they have a barrel-shape.

The Lebombo cycad species prefers a fairly moist environment. It survives in regions that are hot, with wet summers and cool, dry winters that often see mists. The plant flourishes in direct sunlight and can be found on cliffs, slopes and among sparse vegetation.  Wild Lebombo plants are found less and less frequently these days. The Lebombo cycad is officially listed as an endangered plant species. Over-exploitation and habitat destruction are the plants most serious threats.

Image Caption: Lebombo Cycad, (Encephalartos lebomboensis). Credit: Phyzome/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)