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Karoo Cycad - Encephalartos lehmanniiCycads are the most primitive seed-bearing plants alive today. They flourished on the earth 50-60 million years ago and it is thought that 150 million years ago cycads were found almost world-wide. The cycads we know today have changed very little since this period and are very similar to their ancestors. In southern Africa we are privileged to have approximately 60 species of cycads, all occurring within the temperate and tropical parts of the sub-continent. All southern African cycads belong to the genus Encephalartos. No species of cycads occur naturally in the Western Cape Province however. Some of the species are almost extinct in the wild, while other species still occur in relative abundance.

Due to the fact that these plants are regarded as rare, they are protected as 'Endangered Flora' in the Western Cape Province. There are many cycads which are privately owned in the Western Cape, and generally they do well under the artificial circumstances in a cultivated garden. The only time that cycads may be kept privately is if the person has a possession permit for the cycads. This permit is issued by the provincial nature conservation authority, the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board. All cycads in the Western Cape need a possession permit, and Cape Nature Conservation can be contacted for assistance to acquire such permits. The permits are valid for a maximum period of three years and are renewable.

Cycads can be identified by their spray of leaves which emerge from a crown at the top of the stem of the plant. At first the leaves are soft and harden within a short period of time to make hardy, spiky leaves. Some of the species have many small teeth or prickles on the margins of the leaves. A sure method to use to identify whether the fern-looking type plant in your garden is a cycad, is to see whether there is a prominent vein on the back of the leaflets. If so, then the plant is not a true cycad, and therefore does not require a permit. The prominent singular vein referred to is often indicative of cycas, a species of plant which holds a very close resemblance to our indigenous cycads, but in fact originates from South America.

Source: Cape Nature Conservation

  Article Date: 10 August 2004


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