Encephalartos woodii is one of the world's rarest plants. Only one specimen of this cycad has ever been found growing in the wild, and that has long since disappeared. This species now exists only in botanic gardens.
The plant's name commemorates John Medley Wood, the director of the Natal Government Herbarium, who discovered the solitary male plant in Ngoya forest in Zululand in 1895. Three of its four main stems were collected on a subsequent expedition and have been the source of all the material now grown in botanic gardens around the world. Kew received one of these stems in 1899. Offshoots from the stems sent to South African botanic gardens have since been propagated.
Like all cycads, E. woodii is dioecious; that is, it bears male and female cones on different plants. As no female plants have ever been found, the seed cones are unknown.
Kew’s plant was grown in a wooden box in the Palm House until April 1997 when it was moved to the Temperate House and planted in a bed in the south end, alongside other South African plants. It has recently (Autumn 2004) started to produce, for the first time ever at Kew, a bright orange/yellow male cone.