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Encephalartos lebomboensis - Lebombo cycad - desc-fruiting stalk.jpg
Female E. lebomboensis in cultivation
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Cycadophyta
Class: Cycadopsida
Order: Cycadales
Family: Zamiaceae
Genus: Encephalartos
Encephalartos distribution.png
Geographical distribution of genus Encephalartos

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), kephali (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.


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.[5]


Colonies of the cyanobacterium Nostoc punctiforme occur in apparent symbiosis inside the root tissue,[5] while the rootlets produce root tubercles at ground level which harbour a mycorrhizal fungus of uncertain function,[5] which is however suspected to facilitate the capturing of nitrogen from the air.[6]

Food value[edit]

Human consumption[edit]

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[6] for about two months, after which they recovered it for kneading into bread,[5] whence the vernacular name "broodboom" (i.e. bread tree). The burial of the pith apparently facilitated its fermentation and softening,[5] and the dough was lightly roasted over a coal fire.[7] 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.[5][8]

Animal food[edit]

Their large seeds consist of an often poisonous kernel covered by an edible fleshy layer.[6] Female cones are consequently destroyed by baboons, as they relish the pith around the seeds.[5] Monkeys, rodents and birds also feed on the seeds, but due to their unpredictable toxic qualities they are not recommended for human consumption.[6]


The early larval instars of some aposematic, day-flying looper moths are specific to cycads, and genus Encephalartos is one of their food plants.[9] 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).[10]

In cultivation various scale insects attack the leaves of the genus. These include cycad aulacaspis scale, zamia scale and latania scale.[11]


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.[12]


Reproductive cone of E. sclavoi.
  1. Encephalartos aemulans
  2. Encephalartos altensteinii
  3. Encephalartos aplanatus
  4. Encephalartos arenarius
  5. Encephalartos barteri
  6. Encephalartos brevifoliolatus
  7. Encephalartos bubalinus
  8. Encephalartos caffer
  9. Encephalartos calsloanii
  10. Encephalartos cerinus
  11. Encephalartos chimanimaniensis
  12. Encephalartos concinnus
  13. Encephalartos cupidus
  14. Encephalartos cycadifolius
  15. Encephalartos delucanus
  16. Encephalartos dolomiticus
  17. Encephalartos dyerianus
  18. Encephalartos equatorialis
  19. Encephalartos eugene-maraisii
  20. Encephalartos ferox
  21. Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi
  22. Encephalartos ghellinckii
  23. Encephalartos gratus
  24. Encephalartos heenanii
  25. Encephalartos hildebrandtii
  26. Encephalartos hirsutus
  27. Encephalartos horridus
  28. Encephalartos humilis
  29. Encephalartos inopinus
  30. Encephalartos ituriensis
  31. Encephalartos kisambo
  32. Encephalartos laevifolius
  33. Encephalartos lanatus
  34. Encephalartos latifrons
  35. Encephalartos laurentianus
  36. Encephalartos lebomboensis
  37. Encephalartos lehmannii
  38. Encephalartos longifolius
  39. Encephalartos mackenziei
  40. Encephalartos macrostrobilus
  41. Encephalartos manikensis
  42. Encephalartos marunguensis
  43. Encephalartos middelburgensis
  44. Encephalartos msinganus
  45. Encephalartos munchii
  46. Encephalartos natalensis
  47. Encephalartos ngoyanus
  48. Encephalartos nubimontanus
  49. Encephalartos paucidentatus
  50. Encephalartos poggei
  51. Encephalartos princeps
  52. Encephalartos pterogonus
  53. Encephalartos relictus
  54. Encephalartos schaijesii
  55. Encephalartos schmitzii
  56. Encephalartos sclavoi
  57. Encephalartos senticosus
  58. Encephalartos septentrionalis
  59. Encephalartos tegulaneus
  60. Encephalartos transvenosus
  61. Encephalartos trispinosus
  62. Encephalartos turneri
  63. Encephalartos umbeluziensis
  64. Encephalartos villosus
  65. Encephalartos whitelockii
  66. Encephalartos woodii

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Dictionary of South African English". Dictionary Unit for South African English (DSAE). Oxford University Press (UK) & Associated Institute of Rhodes University. 1996. Retrieved 27 September 2015. bread tree n. phr. 
  2. ^ "A Dictionary of South African English". Dictionary Unit for South African English (DSAE). Oxford University Press (UK) & Associated Institute of Rhodes University. 1996. Retrieved 27 September 2015. bread palm n. phr. 
  3. ^ "A Dictionary of South African English". Dictionary Unit for South African English (DSAE). Oxford University Press (UK) & Associated Institute of Rhodes University. 1996. Retrieved 27 September 2015. breadfruit n. 
  4. ^ Schmidt, Ernst; Lötter, Mervyn; McCleland, Warren (2002). Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Johannesburg: Jacana. p. 46. ISBN 9781919777306. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ a b c d Palgrave, K.C. (1984). Trees of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik. p. 43. ISBN 0-86977-081-0. 
  7. ^ Van Bart, Martiens (16 May 1987). "Kirstenbosch kweek nou ook broodbome vir die publiek". Die Burger. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Paterson, William (1789), A Narrative of four Journeys into the Country of the Hottentots and Caffraria, in 1777-79 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Alice Notten (May 2002). "Encephalartos woodii Sander". Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and South African National Biodiversity Institute. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 

External links[edit]