Encephalartos villosus plant

Source: Fab5669

Encephalartos villosus plant
Source: Fab5669

Encephalartos villosus or Poor Man’s Cycad is one of the finest South African cycads with elegant dark green leaves.

It is a fairly fast grower: in 5-8 years you will have a beautiful plant, unlike most cycads.


The stem usually grows underground. In older specimens it can grow above the ground but never higher than 30 cm. The top of the trunk is covered with a thick, woolly coat. Older plants produce suckers and seem to grow in clumps.

The leaves are dark green and gracefully arched. They can be 3 m long but the average size is 1.5 m. The leaflets grow in pairs on a central rachis and are up to to 25 cm long and 2 cm wide. They are slightly bent in the shape of a sickle. They have small teeth along the edges, spread apart at the bottom and closer to the top, ending with a sharp spine at the top of the leaf. Very typical for Encephalartos villosus is that the leaves get smaller towards the base and end in small spines. The absence of a leaf stalk distinguishes him from Encephalartos umbeluziensis. There are major differences in the leaves according to the area, in size and number of teeth.

Male cones are pale yellow to yellow-green, well-developed and supported on a stem. They are slender, cylindrical and tapered towards the apex, measuring about 60 cm long and 10 cm in diameter. When the pollen is released, the cone emits a powerful odor that attracts large numbers of weevils (Antliarhinus zamiae). This seems important or even critical for the pollination. Female cones are of a deeper yellow (cadmium yellow to apricot) and also carried on a well developed stem. They are shorter and fatter than their male colleagues and measuring approximately 40 cm long and 20 cm wide. A feature that allows to distinguish Encephalartos villosus cones from those of other species, is the presence of any scales with a wedge-like protrusion that overlaps the scale immediately below it.

The seeds have a scarlet sarcotesta and are usually about 2.5 cm long and 2 cm in diameter.

Common names:

Bread Palm, Bright-Green Giant-Cycad, Cycad, Glossy Giant-Cycad, Poor Man’s Cycad


Encephalartos niveo-lanuginosus, Encephalartos villosus forma intermedia


Encephalartos: derived from the Greek words enkephalos (brain) and artos (bread)
Villosus: Latin word for hair, tuft of hair

Encephalartos villosus female cone

Source: tato grasso

Encephalartos villosus female cone




Occurs as undergrowth in sub-tropical coastal forest and in scrub, but can also be found in more temperate regions, between 100 and 600 m altitude.


USDA zone 9-11, 0 °C



Rich in humus and with good drainage


Partial shade


Water regularly but avoid standing water at the bottom of the pot


Organic fertilizer in the spring


Repot in spring, when the pot becomes too small

Encephalartos villosus seeds

Source: Maja Dumat

Encephalartos villosus seeds
Source: Maja Dumat


Seed, division.

Sowing instructions:

  • soak the seeds for 3 days in water, refresh the water daily
  • plant in moist sand
  • cover the pot to maintain humidity
  • 27 °C