Encephalartos tegulaneus (lpision)
This giant Kenyan cycad is a living fossil of the plant world – Encephalartos tegulaneus is a member of an ancient group and impressive, but also rare and only found on remote hills.
About this species
This rare tree is found in only a few locations in the more remote parts of Kenya. It belongs to a group of cycads known only from Africa, and though they may look a bit like palms, these species are members of a much more ancient group. Cycads date back to before the time of the dinosaurs! Encephalartos tegulaneus was first collected by Joy Adamson, author of the bestseller Born Free – the woman who loved Elsa the lion. She spotted a specimen on 7 May 1954, and took photographs and painted a watercolour as well as making the original collection. Three years later the tree was described as a new species – and 42 years after that, Beatrice Miringu and Kew botanist Henk Beentje described a second subspecies (E. tegulaneus subsp. powysii).
Geography & Distribution
Encephalartos tegulaneus is restricted to a small area of central and northern Kenya, where it has been found at 1,600–2,100 m above sea level.
Part of a cone, weighing several kilos! (Image: Henk Beentje)
A tree up to 10 m tall, with a usually unbranched trunk up to 1 m across. The trunk is covered in leaf scars and grows erect, or sometimes curves down and up again. There are many leaves per trunk and each leaf is 1–2 m long and pinnate (divided into leaflets), with many stiff, leathery leaflets of 16–31 × 2–3 cm, bearing spiny teeth on the margins near the leaflet base. Encephalartos tegulaneus is dioecious (has separate male and female plants). The male trees bear subcylindrical cones of 40–52 × 9–13 cm on a stalk up to 20 cm long. The female trees bear cones up to 40–68 × 16–22 cm. The ellipsoid, orange seeds are 3–4 × 2–3 cm. Reproduction is probably very slow, with many of the seeds eaten by baboons or wild pigs.
There are two subspecies. The typical one from north-central Kenya (Encephalartos tegulaneus subsp. tegulaneus) occurs in the Mathews and Ndoto Hills, and a more southern one is known from only a single hill near Mt Kenya (E. tegulaneus subsp. powysii).
Threats & Conservation
Encephalartos tegulaneus has been assessed as Least Concern according to IUCN Red List criteria, yet is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning that commercial international trade in this species is prohibited. To understand its conservation status better, it is important to look at each of the two subspecies. E. tegulaneus subsp. powysii is assessed as Critically Endangered. It has a very limited distribution (being known from only a single hill) and is in decline owing to its collection from the wild for ornamental purposes. E. tegulaneus subsp. tegulaneus is not endangered. Although it is restricted to two mountain ranges, it can be abundant where it occurs and while there has been some loss of forest in this region, many examples of this subspecies grow in protected areas.
Encephalartos tegulaneus needs a moist, well-drained, frost-free position, in full sun or shade. Although slow-growing as a seedling, this plant grows more rapidly once it is about five years old.
This species at Kew
Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Encephalartos tegulaneus are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world by appointment. The details of some of these, including some images, can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue. Kew also holds the original photographs taken by Joy Adamson in Kenya in 1954, and the original watercolour that she painted.
Image: Encephalartos tegulaneus growing on the isolated Mt Lolokwe, painted by Joy Adamson in May 1954 (Permission kindly granted for web-site non commercial use from the Elsa Trust)
Photographs by Joy Adamson
Images: The same group of trees from which Joy Adamson painted the watercolour (left); and a detail showing an old female cone (right). (Permission granted for web-site non-commercial use from the Elsa Trust)
Eastern Cape giant cycad
Encephalartos altensteinii in the Palm House at Kew
Another species from this genus is cultivated at Kew – the Eastern Cape giant cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii) can be seen growing in the Palm House. This plant was collected by Francis Masson in the early 1770s – so this is one of the oldest pot plants in the world!
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