The stems of E.brevifoliolatus are well
developed, usually unbranched but often suckering from the base
to form clumps of up to 6 stems. The stem is erect but often
leaning to some extent or even hanging from cliffs. Stems are up
to 2.5m tall and 250mm to 300mm thick and covered by relatively
small remains of leaf bases which are often charred from fires
in its grassland habitat. The crown is not woolly but cataphylls
(bracts) are initially covered by a thin, whitish, felt-like
The leaves are 800mm to 900mm (1200mm?) long,
rigid and straight or very slightly recurved near their apices.
The petioles are unarmed, half-cylindrical and initially has a
whitish felt-like indumentum but are hairless at maturity.
Colour is yellowish and they are 90mm to 200mm long and 7mm to
10mm thick. The rachis is also yellowish.
The basal pinnae are very slightly reduced in
size but not to prickles. The median pinnae overlap with upper
margins over the lower margin of the adjoining leaflets, spaced
8mm to 10mm apart and directed towards the apex of the leaf at
an angle of about 45°. Opposing leaflets are set at an angle of
about 135° to each other. Colour is dark green and they are
shaped very narrowly ovate and somewhat sickle-shaped, with
margins entire and recurved and apices acute and pungent. The
lower surface is finely ribbed with (12) 14 to 16 veins. The
median leaflets are 60mm to 80mm long and 10mm to 12mm wide.
Up to 6 male cones were seen per stem. They
are sessile, very narrowly egg-shaped and covered in minute and
very short whitish felt-like hairs. It is about 350mm long and
60mm to 70mm in diameter in the dried state. The exposed faces
of median microsporophylls (cone scales) are rhombic, about 22mm
wide and 5mm high, and drawn out to a length of about 6mm to the
central facet. The central facet is rhombic, smooth, 7mm to 9mm
wide and 3mm to 5mm wide. The female cones are unknown.
Distribution & Habitat
E.brevifoliolatus is known from five
individuals which occur widely scattered over a few square kilometers on the
Drakensberg escarpment in the Northern Province. In consideration of its
vulnerable conservation status, the locality cannot be divulged in greater
detail. It grows in short grassland, in very open Protea savanna, on
quartzite-derived sandstone or on cliffs. Plants grow in direct sunlight at
elevations of 1,300m to 1,500m.
Cultivation & Propagation
Very little is known about the cultivation of
E.brevifoliolatus because it is so rare. None the less it is represented in
at least one, possibly two, collections. It should be grown in full sun and the
normal requirements for cycads should be adhered to. Since female cones are not
known, this species can only be propagated by removing suckers from the base.
Full credit for the discovery of
this species is due to Mr. S.P. Fourie of the former Transvaal
Chief Directorate of Nature and Environmental Conservation. He
located the plants, brought them to the author's attention,
collected herbarium material, and arranged for the author of the
species to see the plants in nature.
laevifolius by its practically identical male cones,
thin but rigid and spineless petioles with whitish wool when
young, and relatively narrow and entire leaflets which are
finely ribbed on the lower surfaces. It differs from E.
laevifolius and related species by its conspicuously wider
and shorter leaflets with revolute margins and the greater
number of veins per pinna, (12) 14 to 16 instead of 10 to 12
(Dyer 1965 & 1966).
Mention should be made of plants
occurring on the north-eastern Drakensberg of the Northern
Transvaal, and assigned to E. laevifolius. These
represent a series of outlying populations of E. laevifolius,
and differ from material at the type locality by their dark
green instead of glaucous ("blue") foliage, as well as the
densely velvety and somewhat differently shaped cones. Since Dr.
Vorster discovered the first plants in 1969, they have been
studied intensively, but in spite of their superficial
dissimilarity to material from the type locality, the
discontinuity in character states is considered insufficient to
justify taxonomic separation. There is also some variation in
the length/width ratio of the leaflets between populations of
E. laevifolius along its geographical cline, but nowhere
does it approach that of E. brevifoliolatus.
The possibility was considered
that the meager material represents a hybrid, with E.
laevifolius as one of the parents, because the width/length
ratio of the leaflets is larger than any ever recorded in the
E. laevifolius group comprising in addition
and perhaps E.
Arguments against this assumption are that there are no suitable
putative parents growing nearby, that apart from the wider
leaflets it shows no similarity to any species outside the E.
laevifolius group, and that the reproductive cycle of the
E. laevifolius group is half a year out of phase with that
of the remaining species so that natural hybridizing is
The fact that, in spite of a
diligent aerial search, only five widely separated specimens
could be located, coupled to the lack of evidence for the
survival of female plants, leads to the conclusion that the
conservation status of this species is extremely precarious. The
general area where this species was found, is rich in relic
endemic species of Encephalartos. The fact that several
of these were brought to the attention of the scientific world
through the illegal activities of amateur collectors, is poor
consolation for the havoc which they wreaked, to the extent that
more than one species has so been reduced in numbers that it is
no longer possible to study the plants in their natural habitat.
E. brevifoliolatus is not present in any scientific
collection but in view of the disastrous removal of an outlying
population of E. laevifolius from the former Transkei to
KwaZulu-Natal in the name of conservation, removal is not
recommended (by the author of the species) of any material from
nature, unless it proves impossible to protect the plants in
Tall stems, Tree like
Habitat photo 1
References & Acknowledgements
- Encephalartos Vol 47: Focus on Encephalartos
brevifoliolatus - Dr Piet Vorster