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A picture of a Cycad


Encephalartos spp.

Also known as

Broodboom (Afr.), Prickly cycad, Karoo cycad

Encephalartos senticosus, habitus, Walter Sisulu NBT by JMK (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Full Sun
Advanced care
Light watering


USDA zone


Minimum temperature

Expected size








10 years to reach maturity

More images of Cycad

A female Encephalartos plant in a garden
A close up of the crown of an Encephalartos plant
A close up of the crown of an Encephalartos plant

Cycad Overview

Encephalartos is a genus containing around 66 species of cycad plants which are all native to Africa. This genus is part of the Zamiaceae family of palm/ fern-like cycads. Plants in this genus are dioecious evergreen perennials. Dioecious plants produce male and female flowers on individual plants. They grow with an erect habit, producing large, arching foliage in a central, spreading crown at the top of a cylindrical, stocky trunk - superficially they resemble palms. Large leaves are divided into many leaflets, which have variable spines and/or slits along the edges. Reproductive organs are arranged on cone structures, these being male or female in individual plants. Males can be identified by their elongated cones which usually appear in groups of 3-4. In some species, the pollen of male cones has a nauseating scent when ripe - after dispersal they decay and release an odour likened to acetic acid. Female cones are produced singly or in clusters of up to 3. Cones are green, yellow, orange-red, grey or brown. Also known by the common names Bread Tree and Bread Palm, these refer to a starchy, bread-like substance that can be extracted from the middle of the stem and consumed as food. This ancient lineage of plants can be dated back to times when dinosaurs were commonplace on Earth! Due to overuse and overexploitation, all species in this genus are now endangered, some critically so. Therefore, there are restrictions on international trade of these plants for commercial purposes, scientific research being the exception.

Common problems with Cycad

Scale Insects attack young growth. Prevent fungal diseases with flowers-of-sulphar on all wounds.

How to harvest Cycad

Harvest seeds when they are well matured on the female.

How to propagate Cycad


Naked seeds grow on female plants and need pollen from male plants to be fertile. Sow fresh seeds in sandy soil and keep warm and moist. Germination can take 1-3 months.


Remove suckers when they have developed roots and plant in good draining soil. Keep moist until well settled. Do not remove them too soon-two years is a great time to be close to the motherplant!

Special features of Cycad

Attracts birds

Attracts useful insects

Naked seeds are pollinated by beetles.

Indoor plant

Allow good air circulation.

Drought resistant

Some grow in deserts and are xerophytic.

Pot plant

Make sure drainage is good and the pot huge!

Attractive leaves

Other uses of Cycad

Grown for their palm like appearance.


The Afrikaans name 'broodboom' came from the culture of eating the cycads: Give time for the toxins to break down by burying the trunk for 3 months, dig it up, kneed like bread and bake on a fire!


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