Encephalartos villosus Cycad Johann Georg Christian Lehmann
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Die Pflanzenwelt Afrikas, insbesondere seiner tropischen Gebiete - Grundzge der Pflanzenverbreitung im Afrika und die Charakterpflanzen Afrikas (1910) (20752115510).jpg
a) habit of female E. hildebrandtii
b) seed cone of the same, and
c) seed cone of E. villosus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Division: Cycadophyta
Class: Cycadopsida
Order: Cycadales
Family: Zamiaceae
Subfamily: Encephalartoideae
Tribe: Encephalarteae
Subtribe: Encephalartinae
Benth. & Hook.f.
Genus: Encephalartos
Type species
Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi
Encephalartos distribution.png
     geographical distribution of genus

Encephalartos is a genus of cycad native to Africa. Several species of Encephalartos are commonly referred to as bread trees,[1] bread palms[2] or kaffir bread,[3] since a bread-like starchy food can be prepared from the centre of the stem. The genus name is derived from the Greek words en (within), kephalē (head), and artos (bread), referring to the use of the pith to make food. They are, in evolutionary terms, some of the most primitive living gymnosperms.

All the species are endangered, some critically, due to their exploitation by collectors and traditional medicine gatherers.[4] The whole genus is listed under CITES Appendix I / EU Annex A. CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except for certain non-commercial motives, such as scientific research.


Several of the species possess stout trunks. In E. cycadifolius, the main trunks are up to 10 feet (3.0 m) high, and several of them may be united at a base where a former main trunk once grew. The persistent, pinnate leaves are arranged in a terminal spreading crown, or ascending. The rigid leaflets are variously spiny or incised along their margins. The leaflets have a number of parallel veins and no central vein.[5]


Male cones are elongated, and three or four may appear at a time. Female cones are borne singly, or up to three at a time, and may weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kg). In some species, male cones with ripe pollen emit a nauseating odour. When the pollen has been shed and the males cones decay, a strong odour of acetic acid has also been noted.[6]


Colonies of the cyanobacterium Nostoc punctiforme occur in apparent symbiosis inside the root tissue,[6] while the rootlets produce root tubercles at ground level which harbour a mycorrhizal fungus of uncertain function,[6] which is however suspected to facilitate the capturing of nitrogen from the air.[7]

Food value

Human consumption

In several species the pith of the trunk contains a copious amount of high quality starch below the crown. This was formerly cut out by native people as food. Thunberg recorded around 1772 that the Hottentots removed the stem's pith at the crown and buried it wrapped in animal skin[7] for about two months, after which they recovered it for kneading into bread,[6] whence the vernacular name "broodboom" (i.e. bread tree). The burial of the pith apparently facilitated its fermentation and softening,[6] and the dough was lightly roasted over a coal fire.[8] In 1779 Paterson likewise found that the pith of a "large palm" near King William's Town was utilised by the Africans and Hottentots as bread. The pith was removed and left till sourish, before it was kneaded into bread.[6][9]

Animal food

Their large seeds consist of an often poisonous kernel covered by an edible fleshy layer.[7] Female cones are consequently destroyed by baboons, as they relish the pith around the seeds.[6] Vervet monkeys, rodents and birds also feed on the seeds, but due to their unpredictable toxic qualities they are not recommended for human consumption.[7]


The early larval instars of some aposematic, day-flying looper moths are specific to cycads, and genus Encephalartos is one of their food plants.[10] They include the leopard magpie (most Encephalartos spp., other cycads, etc.), Millar's tiger (cultivated E. villosus), dimorphic tiger (cycads under forest canopy), spotted tigerlet (E. villosus), inflamed tigerlet (E. villosus), Staude's tigerlet (E. ngoyanus, cultivated E. villosus and Stangeria) and pallid grey (E. natalensis).[11]

In cultivation various scale insects attack the leaves of the genus. These include cycad aulacaspis scale, zamia scale and latania scale.[12]


The genus was named by German botanist Johann Georg Christian Lehmann in 1834. All cycads except Cycas had been regarded as members of the genus Zamia until then, and some botanists continued to follow this line for many years after Lehmann had separated Encephalartos as a separate genus. His concept was originally much broader than the one accepted today, including also the Australian plants we now know as Macrozamia and Lepidozamia.[13]


Image Leaves Scientific name Distribution
Encephalartos aemulans furnas 2015.jpg Encephalartos aemulans 1zz.jpg Encephalartos aemulans KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa
Encephalartos altensteinii, habitus, Pretoria.jpg Encephalartos Altensteinii.jpg Encephalartos altensteinii Eastern Cape and south-western KwaZulu-Natal Provinces of South Africa
Encephalartos aplanatus furnas 2015.jpg Encephalartos aplanatus north-eastern Swaziland, South Africa
Gardenology.org-IMG 0237 hunt07mar.jpg Encephalartos arenarius 1zz.jpg Encephalartos arenarius Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos barteri furnas 2015 (01).jpg Encephalartos barteri furnas 2015 (03).jpg Encephalartos barteri central Nigeria (near Tokkos, Plateau State), Nigeria (between Jebba and Ilorin), Benin (Borgou Department and near Savalou), Ghana (Volta River watershed), Togo
Encephalartos brevifoliolatus Transvaal, South Africa
Encephalartos bubalinus RBGK.JPG Encephalartos bubalinus northern Tanzania and southern Kenya
Encephalartos caffer.jpg Encephalartos caffer Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
Encephalartos cerinus 5zz.jpg Encephalartos cerinus 4zz.jpg Encephalartos cerinus Buffelsrivier Valley of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Encephalartos chimanimaniensis furnas 2015.jpg Encephalartos chimanimaniensis Chimanimani Mountains of eastern Zimbabwe
Encephalartos concinnus 5zz.jpg Encephalartos concinnus 4zz.jpg Encephalartos concinnus Zimbabwe (Gwanda, Matabeleland South; Mberengwa, Midlands; Runde, Masvingo)
Encephalartos cupidus KirstenboshBotGard09292010A.JPG Encephalartos cupidus KirstenboshBotGard09292010B.jpg Encephalartos cupidus Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos cycadifolius - Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg - DSC08067.JPG Encephalartos cycadifolius Winterberg Mountains, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos delucanus Rukwa Region of western Tanzania
Encephalartos dolomiticus, Manie van der Schijff BT.jpg Encephalartos dolomiticus Wolkberg, southeastern Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos dyerianus northern Transvaal area, South Africa
Encephalartos equatorialis-IMG 9655.JPG Encephalartos equatorialis Thurston Bay, Lake Victoria, Uganda
Encephalartos eugene-maraisii, met keëls, e, Manie van der Schijff BT.jpg Encephalartos eugene-maraisii furnas 2015 (02).jpg Encephalartos eugene-maraisii Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos ferox (2943652983).jpg Encephalartos ferox01.jpg Encephalartos ferox south-eastern coast of Africa
Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi, habitus, Manie van der Schijff BT, a.jpg Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi furnas 2015 (02).jpg Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces of South Africa
Encephalartos ghellinckii02.jpg Encephalartos ghellinckii KwaZulu-Natal and northern Transkei, South Africa
Encephalartos gratus -female cones (9696404689).jpg Encephalartos gratus furnas 2015 (02).jpg Encephalartos gratus Malawi (Mulanje District) and Mozambique (Zambezia Province, Chiraba River and Navene River area, Mount Namuli, near Derre, Morrumbala, and Namarroi)
Encephalartos heenanii north of Swaziland and Mpumalanga Province in South Africa
Encephalartos hildebrandtii 4zz.jpg Encephalartos hildebrandtii A. Braun et Bouché - list.JPG Encephalartos hildebrandtii Kenya and Tanzania
Encephalartos hirsutus-IMG 9648.JPG Encephalartos hirsutus-IMG 8805.JPG Encephalartos hirsutus Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos horridus - Villa Thuret - DSC04830.JPG Encephalartos Horridus in Prague Botanical Garden DSC 0075.jpg Encephalartos horridus Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos humilis Mpumalanga, South Africa
Encephalartos inopinus, a, Manie van der Schijff BT.jpg Encephalartos inopinus 1zz.jpg Encephalartos inopinus Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos ituriensis furnas 2015.jpg Encephalartos ituriensis Ituri forest area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Encephalartos kisambo kz2.JPG Encephalartos kisambo furnas 2015 (02).jpg Encephalartos kisambo Kenya and Tanzania
Encephalartos laevifolius, habitus, Pretoria NBT, a.jpg Encephalartos laevifolius KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces of South Africa
Encephalartos lanatus, vier manlike keëls, Manie van der Schijff BT, a.jpg Encephalartos lanatus Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.
Encephalartos latifrons KirstenboshBotGard09292010B.JPG Encephalartos latifrons Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos laurentianus kz3.JPG Encephalartos laurentianus-Jardin botanique Meise (10).jpg Encephalartos laurentianus northern Angola and southern Congo (Zaire)
Encephalartos lebomboensis RBGK.JPG Encephalartos lebomboensis Lebombo Mountains of South Africa
Encephalartos lehmannii hd.JPG Encephalartos lehmannii Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos longifolius02.jpg Encephalartos longifolius Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos mackenziei Didinga Hills of Namorunyang State, South Sudan
Encephalartos macrostrobilus Moyo District, northwestern Uganda
Encephalartos manikensis, habitus, Laeveld NBT.jpg Encephalartos manikensis furnas 2015 (03).jpg Encephalartos manikensis Mozambique and Zimbabwe
Encephalartos marunguensis Democratic Republic of the Congo (in the Marungu Mountains and on Muhila plateau) and Tanzania (about 100 km west of Marungu)
Encephalartos middelburgensis05.jpg Encephalartos middelburgensis01.jpg Encephalartos middelburgensis Gauteng and Mpumalanga Provinces of South Africa
Encephalartos msinganus furnas 2015.jpg Encephalartos msinganus 6zz.jpg Encephalartos msinganus KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa
Encephalartos munchii central Mozambique
Encephalartos natalensis KirstenboshBotGard09292010B.JPG Thousand Hills Cycad (Encephalartos natalensis) 1.jpg Encephalartos natalensis Qumbu and Tabankulu areas of the northern part of the Eastern Cape, and through most of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Encephalartos ngoyanus en los invernaderos centrales del Jardín Botánico de Córdoba.jpg Encephalartos ngoyanus 2zz.jpg Encephalartos ngoyanus Ngoye Forest, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Encephalartos nubimontanus furnas 2015 (01).jpg Encephalartos nubimontanus furnas 2015 (03).jpg Encephalartos nubimontanus Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos paucidentatus furnas 2015 (01).jpg Encephalartos paucidentatus furnas 2015 (03).jpg Encephalartos paucidentatus near Barberton in Mpumalanga Province, and near Piggs Peak in northwestern Swaziland, in South Africa
Encephalartos poggei DRC (Kasai Occidental, Shaba Province), Angola (Lunda Sul Province)
Encephalartos princeps, Manie van der Schijff BT.jpg Encephalartos princeps 2zz.jpg Encephalartos princeps Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
Encephalartos pterogonus 3zz.jpg Encephalartos pterogonus furnas 2015 (01).jpg Encephalartos pterogonus Manica Province of Mozambique
Encephalartos relictus Swaziland, South Africa
Encephalartos schaijesii near Kolwezi in Shaba Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Encephalartos schmitzii Luapula River watershed, in Democratic Republic of the Congo (on the extreme south of the Kundelungu plateau, Shaba Province) and in Zambia (along the Muchinga escarpment in Luapula and Northern provinces). A subpopulation is also found in North-Western Province, Zambia, to the east of Solwezi
Encephalartos sclavoi 2zz.jpg Encephalartos sclavoi Tanzania
Encephalartos senticosus, habitus, Walter Sisulu NBT.jpg Encephalartos senticosus Lebombo Mountains of Mozambique, Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa.
Encephalartos septentrionalis 0zz.jpg Encephalartos septentrionalis South Sudan, northern Uganda, northern Democratic Republic of the Congo
Encephalartos tegulaneus 3zz.jpg Encephalartos tegulaneus 5zz.jpg Encephalartos tegulaneus Eastern Province near Embu and on the Matthews Range in Rift Valley Province, Kenya
Encephalartos transvenosus, habitus, Manie van der Schijff BT.jpg Encephalartos travenosus furnas 2015 (02).jpg Encephalartos transvenosus Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos trispinosus - Flora park - Cologne, Germany - DSC00777.jpg Encephalartos trispinosus Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos turneri.jpg Encephalartos turneri furnas 2015 (01).jpg Encephalartos turneri Nampula, Mazambique.
Encephalartos umbeluziensis furnas 2015.jpg Encephalartos umbeluziensis Mozambique and Swaziland
Poor Man's Cycad (Encephalartos villosus) (45818958554).jpg Encephalartos villosus Lehm. - listy.JPG Encephalartos villosus East London vicinity and Swaziland, South Africa
Encephalartos whitelockii 4zz.jpg Encephalartos whitelockii Uganda (Kabarole District)
Encephalartos woodii original stem Durban Botanic Gardens 04 09 2010.JPG Encephalartos woodii medium shade leaf 12 09 2010.JPG Encephalartos woodii KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

See also


  1. ^ "Bread tree, n. phr". Dictionary of South African English. Dictionary Unit for South African English. 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  2. ^ "Bread palm, n. phr". Dictionary of South African English. Dictionary Unit for South African English. 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  3. ^ "Kaffir-bread, n." Dictionary of South African English. Dictionary Unit for South African English. 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  4. ^ Schmidt, Ernst; Lötter, Mervyn; McCleland, Warren (2002). Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Johannesburg: Jacana. p. 46. ISBN 9781919777306.
  5. ^ "Encephalartos natalensis". TreeSA. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Christo Albertyn (1966). Common Names of South African Plants. Botanical Survey Memoir. 35. Pretoria: The Government Printer. pp. 179, 264.
  7. ^ a b c d Palgrave, K.C. (1984). Trees of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik. p. 43. ISBN 0-86977-081-0.
  8. ^ Van Bart, Martiens (16 May 1987). "Kirstenbosch kweek nou ook broodbome vir die publiek". Die Burger. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  9. ^ Paterson, William (1789), A Narrative of four Journeys into the Country of the Hottentots and Caffraria, in 1777-79
  10. ^ Donaldson, J. S.; Basenberg, J. D. (1995). "Life history and host range of the leopard magpie moth, Zerenopsis leopardina Felder (Lepidoptera: Geometridae)". African Entomology. 3 (2): 103–110. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  11. ^ Cooper, Michael Robert; Goode, Douglas (2004). The cycads and cycad moths of Kwazulu-Natal. New Germany [South Africa]: Peroniceras Press. pp. 76–93. ISBN 062031978X.
  12. ^ Miller, Douglass R.; Davidson, John A. (2005). Armored scale insect pests of trees and shrubs: (Hemiptera: Diaspididae). Ithaca (N.Y.): Cornell university press. p. 425. ISBN 0801442796.
  13. ^ Alice Notten (May 2002). "Encephalartos woodii Sander". Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and South African National Biodiversity Institute. Retrieved 2006-11-16.