Encephalartos laevifolius, the Kaapsehoop cycad, grows stems of up to 3 m (SA Tree List No. 6). The bracts or cataphylls at the stem tip are smooth (hairless), long and sharply pointed.
The leaves are dark green, the rachis yellow. Leaves become up to 1,5 m long.
The narrow, linear leaflets are long, from 12 cm to 15 cm, and between 6 mm and 9 mm wide. They are positioned horizontal to the rachis i.e. not twisted sideways, but angled up, forming a V-shape above the rachis. Leaflet margins are entire (no toothing) and the lowermost leaflets are not reduced to prickles. The leaflets are hairless, but covered in a greyish bloom when young.
The cones have short, fine grey hairs but are not woolly. The male or pollen cones become curved when mature, up to 40 cm long and 10 cm wide. The female or seed cones only reach 30 cm in length and up to 13 cm in diameter. The seeds are yellow.
The species distribution ranged in the past along the east of South Africa, from the Eastern Cape through KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to Limpopo, but has undergone rapid reduction. The plant in habitat is restricted to high mountain peaks, where it grows on steep grassland slopes in the mist-belt, at altitudes from 1300 m to 1500 m.
Its numbers have reduced in or it is extinct from most places where it was known to grow in the past, now only found in part of Mpumalanga, notably Kaapsehoop. The species is thus critically endangered early in the twenty first century, due to collection by people, habitat loss and the appearance of invasive plant species in its habitat. There is also a species of fusarium fungus that attacks the cones and renders the seed sterile (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Hugo, 2014; www.redlist.sanbi.org).
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