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), kephalē (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.

Die Pflanzenwelt Afrikas, insbesondere seiner tropischen Gebiete - Grundzge der Pflanzenverbreitung im Afrika und die Charakterpflanzen Afrikas (1910) (20752115510).jpg
a) habit of female E. hildebrandtii
b) seed cone of the same, and
c) seed cone of E. villosus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Division: Cycadophyta
Class: Cycadopsida
Order: Cycadales
Family: Zamiaceae
Subfamily: Encephalartoideae
Tribe: Encephalarteae
Subtribe: Encephalartinae
Benth. & Hook.f.
Genus: Encephalartos
Type species
Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi
Encephalartos distribution.png
     geographical distribution of genus

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. The leaflets have a number of parallel veins and no central vein.[5]


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.[6]


Colonies of the cyanobacterium Nostoc punctiforme occur in apparent symbiosis inside the root tissue,[6] while the rootlets produce root tubercles at ground level which harbour a mycorrhizal fungus of uncertain function,[6] which is however suspected to facilitate the capturing of nitrogen from the air.[7]

Food valueEdit

Human consumptionEdit

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[7] for about two months, after which they recovered it for kneading into bread,[6] whence the vernacular name "broodboom" (i.e. bread tree). The burial of the pith apparently facilitated its fermentation and softening,[6] and the dough was lightly roasted over a coal fire.[8] 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.[6][9]

Animal foodEdit

Their large seeds consist of an often poisonous kernel covered by an edible fleshy layer.[7] Female cones are consequently destroyed by baboons, as they relish the pith around the seeds.[6] Vervet monkeys, rodents and birds also feed on the seeds, but due to their unpredictable toxic qualities they are not recommended for human consumption.[7]


The early larval instars of some aposematic, day-flying looper moths are specific to cycads, and genus Encephalartos is one of their food plants.[10] 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).[11]

In cultivation various scale insects attack the leaves of the genus. These include cycad aulacaspis scale, zamia scale and latania scale.[12]


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.[13]


Reproductive cone of E. sclavoi.
Image Leaves Scientific name Distribution
    Encephalartos aemulans KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa
    Encephalartos altensteinii eastern Cape and south-western Natal provinces of South Africa
  Encephalartos aplanatus north-eastern part of Swaziland, South Africa
    Encephalartos arenarius Eastern Cape, South Africa
    Encephalartos barteri central Nigeria (near Tokkos, Plateau State), Nigeria (between Jebba and Ilorin), Benin (Borgou Department and near Savalou), Ghana (Volta River watershed), Togo
Encephalartos brevifoliolatus Transvaal, South Africa
  Encephalartos bubalinus northern Tanzania and southern Kenya
  Encephalartos caffer Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
    Encephalartos cerinus Buffelsrivier Valley of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
  Encephalartos chimanimaniensis Chimanimani Mountains of eastern Zimbabwe
    Encephalartos concinnus Zimbabwe (Gwanda, Matabeleland South; Mberengwa, Midlands; Runde, Masvingo)
    Encephalartos cupidus Limpopo Province, South Africa
  Encephalartos cycadifolius Winterberg mountains to the north of Bedford in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa
Encephalartos delucanus Rukwa Region of western Tanzania
  Encephalartos dolomiticus Wolkberg, southeastern Limpopo Province, South Africa
Encephalartos dyerianus northern Transvaal area, South Africa
  Encephalartos equatorialis Thurston Bay, Lake Victoria, Uganda
    Encephalartos eugene-maraisii Limpopo, South Africa
    Encephalartos ferox south-eastern coast of Africa
    Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi Eastern Cape province and KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa
  Encephalartos ghellinckii KwaZulu-Natal and northern Transkei, South Africa
    Encephalartos gratus Malawi (Mulanje District) and Mozambique (Zambezia Province, Chiraba River and Navene River area, Mount Namuli, near Derre, Morrumbala, and Namarroi)
Encephalartos heenanii north of Swaziland and in the Mpumalanga province in South Africa
    Encephalartos hildebrandtii Kenya and Tanzania
    Encephalartos hirsutus Limpopo Province, South Africa
    Encephalartos horridus Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos humilis Mpumalanga, South Africa
    Encephalartos inopinus Limpopo Province, South Africa
  Encephalartos ituriensis Ituri forest area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Encephalartos kisambo Kenya and Tanzania
  Encephalartos laevifolius KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo Province, and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa
  Encephalartos lanatus Mpumalanga, South Africa.
  Encephalartos latifrons Eastern Cape province in South Africa
    Encephalartos laurentianus northern Angola and southern Congo (Zaire)
  Encephalartos lebomboensis Lebombo Mountains of South Africa
  Encephalartos lehmannii Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
  Encephalartos longifolius Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Encephalartos mackenziei Didinga Hills of Namorunyang State, South Sudan
Encephalartos macrostrobilus Moyo District, northwestern Uganda
    Encephalartos manikensis Mozambique and Zimbabwe
Encephalartos marunguensis Democratic Republic of the Congo (in the Marungu Mountains and on Muhila plateau) and Tanzania (about 100 km west of Marungu)
    Encephalartos middelburgensis Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa
    Encephalartos msinganus Natal and KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa
Encephalartos munchii central Mozambique
    Encephalartos natalensis Qumbu and Tabankulu areas of the northern part of the Eastern Cape, and through most of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Encephalartos ngoyanus Ngoye Forest, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Encephalartos nubimontanus Limpopo province, South Africa
    Encephalartos paucidentatus ear Barberton in Mpumalanga Province, and near Piggs Peak in the northwestern part of Swaziland, in South Africa
Encephalartos poggei DRC (Kasai Occidental, Shaba Province), Angola (Lunda Sul Province)
    Encephalartos princeps Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
    Encephalartos pterogonus Manica province of Mozambique
Encephalartos relictus Swaziland, South Africa
Encephalartos schaijesii near Kolwezi in Shaba Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Encephalartos schmitzii Luapula River watershed, in Democratic Republic of the Congo (on the extreme south of the Kundelungu plateau, Shaba Province) and in Zambia (along the Muchinga escarpment in Luapula and Northern provinces). A subpopulation is also found in North-Western Province, Zambia, to the east of Solwezi
  Encephalartos sclavoi Tanzania
  Encephalartos senticosus Lebombo Mountains of Mozambique, Swaziland and the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.
  Encephalartos septentrionalis South Sudan, northern Uganda, northern Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Encephalartos tegulaneus Eastern Province near Embu and on the Matthews Range in Rift Valley Province, Kenya
    Encephalartos transvenosus Limpopo, South Africa
  Encephalartos trispinosus Eastern Cape province, South Africa
    Encephalartos turneri Nampula, Mazambique.
  Encephalartos umbeluziensis Mozambique and Swaziland
    Encephalartos villosus East London vicinity and Swaziland, South Africa
  Encephalartos whitelockii Uganda (Kabarole District)
    Encephalartos woodii KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ "Encephalartos natalensis". TreeSA. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b c d Palgrave, K.C. (1984). Trees of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik. p. 43. ISBN 0-86977-081-0.
  8. ^ Van Bart, Martiens (16 May 1987). "Kirstenbosch kweek nou ook broodbome vir die publiek". Die Burger. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  9. ^ Paterson, William (1789), A Narrative of four Journeys into the Country of the Hottentots and Caffraria, in 1777-79
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Alice Notten (May 2002). "Encephalartos woodii Sander". Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and South African National Biodiversity Institute. Retrieved 2006-11-16.

External linksEdit