Encephalartos longifolius – Thunberg (1772)
Thunberg’s cycad, Suurberg cycad (Eng), Suurbergbroodboom (Afr)
Encephalartos longifolius is a medium-sized plant with stems 3m to 4,5m tall and a diameter of 30cm to 45cm. Mature plants often have more than one stem and numerous suckers can develop from the base.
Leaves vary in colour from dark green to bluish green. Young leaves are covered in fine hair but this is lost as the leaves get older. Leaves are numerous and usually 1m to 2m long, with the rachis recurved towards the end.
The pinnae spacing varies (see leaf detail photos) from moderately spaced to overlapping, length is up to 20cm and 2-3cm broad. They are normally entire but can have 1-3 teeth on the lower margin and are pungent-tipped or rounded.
Pollen and seed cones are dissimilar and olive green to brownish green. A single cone is usually produced per stem. Males cones are 40-60cm x 15-20cm and cylindrical. The peduncle can be 3 to 5 cm long. Female cones are among the largest of the genus and can weigh up to 40kg. Cones are 50-60cm x 25-30cm, broadly ovoid with warty sporophylls and no visible peduncle. Seeds are 4-5cm x 2-3cm and bright red.
Distribution & Habitat
The species is endemic to South Africa and occurs in the eastern Cape. It grows mainly on mountain slopes in fynbos (sclerophyll) vegetation, at altitudes up to 1500m. It also occurs as low as 200m closer to the coast. The climate is hot in summer and cold in winter, rainfall varies from 300mm inland to 1250mm at the coast.
Cultivation & Propagation
E. longifolius is easily grown and transplants readily even when mature. They prefer full sun and acidic, well drained soils. It will tolerate light frost only. Propagation is by seed or by removing suckers from the parent plant.
E. longifolius is probably the first cycad collected by Carl Peter Thunberg and Francis Masson around 1775 on their trip to the Eastern Cape. A specimen, sent to Kew Gardens at the time, is still growing in the Palm House, which makes it more than 200 years old. This plant was recently identified as E. altensteinii and not E. longifolius! How it happened that they collected E. altensteinii in E. longifolius habitat is a mystery that is difficult to solve. Since E. longifolius is closely related to E. altensteinii, the confusion is understandable, but the two species can be readily distinguished since the the leaves and pinnae differ.
Natural hybrids are known between E. horridus and E. longifolius where they occur in close proximity.