Encephalartos ferox (Holly Leaf Cycad, Zuzuland Cycad)

Holly Leaf Cycads, in their native habitat, frequently grow under a light, shaded canopy. However, these may also grow in dunes or grasslands close to shorelines. Although these are fairly common South African cycads, they are still considered to be nearly threatened.

Encephalartos ferox (Holly Leaf Cycad, Zuzuland Cycad)
Family: Zamiaceae
Subspecies: ‘Ice Blue’, ‘Chongeone’ (upwards curving leaflets), ‘Xai xai’ (“wavy” leaflets)
Native: South Africa
Hardiness Zones: 10-12 (frost tender)
Height: aboveground trunk to 1 meter tall
Diameter: to 4 meters wide at maturity
Root System: Initially, new seedlings develop a deep taproot. Collaroid roots, which help fix Nitrogen through symbiosis with cyanobacteria, may be present. Older roots become thick and woody.
Growth Rate: fast (especially for a cycad)
Age: long-lived, over 100 years old
Deciduous: no
Monoecious/dioecious: dioecious

Tolerates: drought (temporarily once established), fire (with age)
Problems (major): Frost sensitive, rots from flooding or overwatering, sometimes susceptible to scale
Problems (minor): none
Poisonous: none
Soil requirements: prefers sandy soil, requires excellent drainage
Air requirements: native to arid, hot regions
Watering requirement: moderate, tolerant of lower watering with age
Sun requirement: prefers partial shade, grow smaller in full sun
Leaves: to 2 meters (7 feet) long, several opposite leaflets to 15 centimeters long and 5 centimeters wide, leaflets heavily toothed with sharp edges, deep green to light blue-green
Cones (male): conical, yellow to bright red, in clusters of 1-6, on 3 centimeter long stems, to 45 centimeters long by 10 centimeters wide
Cones (female): ovoid, usually bright orange or red, in clusters of 1-5, to 50 centimeters long by 40 centimeters wide
Seeds: bright orange or red, covered in a fleshy coat to 5 centimeters long
Seeds require stratification: no
Seed dispersal: typically birds or monkeys
Form: symmetrical, rounded, foliage arching horizontal
Trunk: typically subterranean, rarely aboveground to 1 meters, to 35 centimeters across, considered a caudex
Notable characteristics:
The seeds require nearly 7 months to develop if successfully pollinated. Germination is extremely slow; the first leaf arises around 6 weeks after the initial taproot has grown. Fire is a natural occurence in its native habitat; plants may re-grow from underground stems if severely burnt. Fire damage, however, is usually not fatal. These produce offsets via suckering on rare occassions.

These are popular garden cycads for their atypical foliage.
Sources used:

Singular leaf with opposite leaflets, increasing density towards the terminal tip

Light green E. ferox at Missouri Botanical Garden

‘Ice Blue’ E. ferox at Southern Illinois Univeristy Carbondale’s plant biology greenhouse. This specimen is over 70 years old.


Male cone

Above ground trunk
All of the images provided were taken by me. They may be used for educational/informational purposes only, provided that this article/online journal is appropriately cited first.


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