Encephalartos cupidus R.A. Dyer
Common names: Blyde River cycad
SA Tree No: 14.13
Encephalartos cupidus is a very attractive, desirable, frost-hardy, dwarf, multi-stemmed cycad with its usually subterranean stem and blue green leaves, suitable for temperate to tropical areas. E. cupidus survives very well in deep soil, full sunlight and is drought-tolerant.
Encephalartos cupidus is a dwarf cycad with a subterranean stem which grows up to about 150 mm long and 150 mm in diameter. E. cupidus normally produces many suckers of 10–15 per stem. Leaves are rigid, 0.5–1.0 m long, blue green and curved downwards near the apex. Median leaflets are about 100–150 mm long and 10–16 mm in diameter. The leaflets are leathery, without nodules and armed with 3 or 4 pungent teeth on both margins. Leaflets margins are not thickened or recurved and the apex is pungent. Basal leaflets decrease in size to a series of spines.
Male and female plants produce one cone, which is bright apple-green, per stem per season. Male cone turns to yellowish at maturity, is 180–300 mm long and 50–80 mm in diameter. Male cone starts to shed pollen during January–March. Female cone is 180–200 mm long and 120–140 mm in diameter. Female cone starts to break off during May–July to produce about 120 seeds.
According to Raimondo et al. (2009), Encephalartos cupidus is Red-Listed as CR (Critically Endangered), as available evidence indicates that it meets all of the five IUCN criteria for critically endangered, and is therefore facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
Distribution and habitat
Encephalartos cupidus occurs within a restricted area of the Mpumalanga Drakensberg escarpment area, between the Blyde and Steelpoort Rivers in Mpumalanga, on steep slopes, rocky grassland and open forest. It used to have a much wider distribution, but it has suffered very heavily from plant collectors, so its range has been considerably reduced. The climate is hot, humid in summer and cool in winter, with the average annual rainfall of about 350–750 mm, which predominantly falls in summer. The plant is a frost-hardy and drought-tolerant.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The species was described in 1971 by Robert Allen Dyer. The specific epithet cupidus is derived from the Latin, and means ‘desirable’ or ‘highly attractive’.
Species of Encephalartos are pollinated by insects and wind in the wild, but it is advisable to apply hand pollination in the garden for better results. Cycad cones release a distinctive odour at maturity to attract insects for pollination purposes. The fleshy outer covering layer of the seeds is a desirable food for a range of animals such as monkeys, birds, rodents and bats. Therefore, with some luck, the seeds are discarded some distance away from the parent plant in a hospitable environment in which they are likely to germinate.
Encephalartos cupidus can be used as a decorative container plant, a focal point in the garden, or can also be very effective used in group planting as its succulence is ideal for a low maintenance garden, as they require a minimum of water, and are undemanding in their soil and environmental needs.
Growing Encephalartos cupidus
Encephalartos cupidus can be easily propagated from seeds and suckers. It is a drought-tolerant, frost-hardy, and does well in the full sun.
To grow from seed, place cleaned seeds on their sides half buried on washed sand or a potting mix, and kept at about 28ºC. The medium must be kept moist, but not too wet, for as long as it takes to germination. As soon as the radicals of the sprouted kernels are 10–20 mm long, they can be planted singly in bags containing potting soil or some other suitable medium. One must wait until the seedlings develop one or two leaves before transplanting them individually into bags. Because of the long taproots cycad seedlings form, one must use tall, narrow, perforated, black, plastic bags of about 240 × 120 mm in size, for their initial establishment. Seedlings must be placed under shade for the first few years of growth and development. Initially the seedlings must be watered daily with a fine spray. After about a month, as their roots elongate, the frequency of watering should be decreased to about once a week. The seedlings can be transplanted into the garden when they are 3–5 years old.
When preparing to propagate from suckers, the soil should be dug away carefully to expose the base of the sucker where it joints the stem of the mother plant. One must use a clean, sharp knife or sharp spade to remove the sucker from the mother plant. Leaves of the sucker must be removed to reduce dehydration. The wound must then be treated with a fungicide and dried for about a week before planting the sucker into a sterile medium. The best time for removing suckers from the mother plant, is in spring and early summer, when the climate is warm for the quick establishment of the new plant.
Troublesome pests include scale insects, beetles and chewing insects. Scale insects cause great damage to cycad leaves by sucking the sap from them. Most scale insects can be controlled with regular and frequent applications of a horticultural soluble oil, such as white oil. Beetles seriously damage cycad plants by attacking the emerging young leaves. Control can be kept by application of contact or systemic insecticides, or one of the bacterial preparations available.
- Giddy, C. 1974. Cycads of South Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Grobbelaar, N. 2002. Cycads of southern Africa. Author, Pretoria.
- Raimondo, D. et al. 2009. Red list of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute), Pretoria.
Pretoria National herbarium
Plant Type: Shrub, Tree
SA Distribution: Mpumalanga
Soil type: Loam
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy