Encephalartos lanatus

Stapf & Burtt Davy

Family: Zamiaceae
Common names:
Woolly cycad (Eng.)

Shooting after fire

Encephalartos lanatus is normally a single-stemmed medium size plant about 1–1,5 m high. In the garden, it enjoys a position in full sun and is a strong architectural plant that makes a good focal point. E. lanatus is frost hardy, fire adapted and drought resistant.

E. lanatus is a slow growing small tree with stems usually about 1,5 -2,5m long, and 25–30 cm in diameter. The young grey leaves are woolly and have a curved apex. Mature leaves are greyish green,and about 60–80 cm in length. Both male and female cones are densely woolly when young and become yellow with age. They are dioecious/ the cones are borne in separate plants. Female cones are barrel-shaped, 25–30 cm long and 12–15 mm in diameter. Male cones are cylindrical, 25–30 cm long and 5–6 cm in diameter. E. lanatus sometimes sends out suckers at the base of the main stem. The mature seeds are yellow and fleshy and smaller than those of other commonly cultivated species such as E. altensteinii .

Wooly stem and base of leaves

Conservation status
E. lanatus is categorised as NT (Near Threatened). Legislation relating to growing /owning cycads in South Africa

Distribution and habitat
E. lanatus occurs naturally in Gauteng and Mpumalanga in the catchment area of the Olifants River in the Middelburg, Witbank and Bronkhorstspruit districts. This highveld grassland species occurs in sheltered rocky valleys that experience moderately hot summers and very cold frosty winters.

Growing in habitat

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Encephalartos is Greek for “bread in head” and refers to the floury, starchy material in the trunks of some species which is used as famine food by local native tribes. Lanatus means woolly in Latin, referring to the wool on the young leaves and on the cones. The species is often confused with E. laevifolius, E. humilis and E. friderici-guilielmi.


Being a grassland species, it is well adapted to the annual fire season. According to Giddy C. (1984) “owing to regular fires in the area, new leaves and cones are borne almost every year and this regular, induced coning probably accounts for the heavy plant population of all ages.” Most cycad seeds are commonly destroyed by the Curculionid weevil (Antliarhinus zamiae).

Shooting after fire

Uses and cultural aspects
Because cycad seeds are toxic to humans, one should use gloves when handling or cleaning them.


Growing Encephalartos lanatus

E. lanatus is easily grown from seed. Hand pollination is necessary for a successful seed harvest in cultivation. Pollen can be collected as soon as it starts shedding. If a slight tapping of the male cone sheds pollen, then the cone is ready to be harvested. Pollen should be stored at – 15° C for best results. The female cone scales have to be monitored to check if they are open. The window of the scale opening varies with plants, from three days to two weeks. The wet method using distilled water in a syringe has given us at Kirstenbosch a good pollination rate. After female cones have been collected the seed is left to mature for a year before sowing at the beginning of summer.

For best results, seed is sown in river sand on a heated bench at 24–28° C. Germination should start after three weeks after sowing. However, some seeds will take longer.

E. lanatus is slow-growing and reported to be very difficult to transplant; plants die easily or take a long time to recover when transplanted. Leaves and cones are prone to scale and mealybugs. In the spring at Kirstenbosch we apply a mixture of 3. 1. 5, bone meal and organic fertilizer to each plant. During the year we regularly feed the plant with a generous layer of compost.

References and further reading

  • Donaldson, J. S (ed.). 2003. Cycads. Status survey and conservation action plan. UCN/SSC Cycad Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambrige, UK
  • Giddy, C. 1974. Cycads of South Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Goode, D. 2001. Cycads of Africa. Cycads of Africa Publishers, Gallomanor, South Africa.
  • Jones, D.L. 1993. Cycads of the World. Reed Books, Australia.
  • Whitelock, L. M. 2002. The Cycads. Timber Press Inc., Portland, Oregon, USA.

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Phakamani M’ Afrika Xaba
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
March 2008








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