Encephalartos gratus is a robust medium-large cycad that grows in the Mulanje mountains of Malawi and Mozambique. This species occurs on steep to precipitous slopes in gorges near streams, frequently in rock-crevices with no apparent soil. Usually subject to intense insolation, it nevertheless survives occasional brief submersion in heavy floods in areas with abundant rainfall (1000-1750 mm per year, mainly summery precipitation). Specimens are sometimes met with in savanna forest and less often in dense forest with rich soil. The temperatures regularly reach 35 to 38° C. In savanna the plants are usually defoliated by the annual grass-fires, but survive.
Female plants may remain leafless for twelve to eighteen months after ripening seeds, their stems continuing short and globose, hypogeal or only rising few dm above the surface. Male plants of approximately the same age may develop stems 1 m high. It has soft-textured foliage with dark salmon pink cones. This colouration is shared by only Encephalartos ferox, which is probably not closely related. On the other hand, the cylindrical female cones and successively emerging male cones of E. gratus may point to an affinity with Encephalartos bubalinus and allied species.
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As a garden subject, Encephalartos gratus is a vigorous fast-growing cycad, which handles wet or dry conditions, it responds well to cultivation provided it has a well-drained soil, frost-free conditions and regular watering during the dry months. When young they can be grown as a container plant and eventually transplanted into the garden. As a garden plant, this cycad will usually hold two or three crowns of leaves, all in good condition.
It prefers gritty or sandy soil with plenty of water, especially in dry weather. Encephalartos gratus requires excellent drainage. During the year feed the plant with a generous layer of compost.”
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