Encephalartos altensteinii, the giant Eastern Cape cycad, is well served by its common name: It is large, sometimes with a stem of up to 7 m and its habitat is the Eastern Cape (and southern KwaZulu-Natal) coastal area among bush and rocky slopes.
The species resembles E. natalensis and E. lebomboensis, but those species have prickles as their lowest leaflets at the leaf base as well as a woolly covering over new leaves. Some magnificent specimens can be seen growing on cliffs near Gonubie.
E. altensteinii is one of the commonly grown garden species. It grows fast and transplants comparatively well. In general, the longevity and low maintenance of many of the 65 African cycad species contribute to the ornamental features of these plants. The physical beauty is mainly in the shapely leaf crowns and colourful cones of these senior members of the plant world in historical terms.
Cycads are seed plants (spermatophytes) that were much more prevalent in the time of the dinosaurs that ate them. They even predated the dinosaurs (Coates Palgrave, 2002; www.plantzafrica.com; www.plantapalm.com).
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