E. latifrons is very rare and found in one restricted habitat in the Bathurst and Albany district in the Eastern Cape. It grows in thick bush but often along dry river courses. A slow growing cycad with olive-green, prickly leaves, 1-1,5m long with stems up to 3m tall.
Encephalartos latifrons, also known as the Albany Cycad, occurs in South Africa in the biodiversity hotspot region known as the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany hotspot, which is an important centre of plant endemism. It is uncertain how widespread or abundant E. latifrons was prior to human settlement, but there are historic records of populations being scattered through the Albany and Bathurst districts of the Eastern Cape Province.It is in a critical state with no natural seed set and continuing decline.
Based on plants in collections and studies of matched photographs, the population has declined by >80% over the past 100 years. The area of occupancy is estimated to be 9 kmÂ² and the population is extremely fragmented with most individuals separated from each other by more than by one kilometre. The sex ratio is ca. four males to one female so that the effective population size is extremely small. All subpopulations comprise less than 20 plants, which is non-viable for supporting pollinators and there appears to have been no recruitment for more than 50 years.
Stems of E. latifrons are up to 3m tall, and even as tall as 4,5m in exceptional cases, with a diameter of 30cm to 45cm. Stems may be single but are more usually branched from the base, sometimes forming a number of stems and suckers. Before new leaves emerge, the crown of the stem becomes woolly. The beautiful broad leaves of E. latifrons may be 1m to 1,5m long with the top half or third, recurved or completely curled back. The mature leaf is hard and rigid, with a glossy dark green colour. The glossy rachis is clear and yellow. The young leaf is covered by fine hairs, which are lost with age. The petiole is 10cm to 20cm long and the leaf base has a conspicuous yellow-white collar. The leaflets are attached to the rachis in a V-form, which is narrower towards the top of the leaf. The leaflets at the middle of the leaf are 10cm to 15cm long and 4cm to 6cm broad, excluding the lobes. The leaflets are 1,5cm to 2cm broad where they are attached to the rachis. The tips of the leaflets (and of the lobes) are pointed and fairly sharp. The upper margin of the leaflet is usually smooth, but may sometimes be toothed. The lower margin of the leaflet carries 2 to 4 triangular lobes, which are twisted out of the plane of the leaflet. The leaflets overlap upwards, especially in the top third of the leaf. Viewed from the side, the lowest lobes point downwards and the upper ones upwards, to form an interlocking pattern, which is very characteristic of the species. The leaflets are usually prominently nerved, especially on the under-side. The leaflets become more widely spread on the rachis towards the base of the leaf and become reduced in size. Only the very lowest ones sometimes become prickle-like, however. Some variation occurs in the appearance of the leaves, as is found in many other species. Some leaves are more sharply recurved than others while the leaflets may be generally smaller in some than in others. Some collectors believe that there areobservable differences between the leaves of male and female plants. One to three cones may be formed. The colour of the cones is dark olive-green or dark bluish-green. The cones are carried on very short stout stalks. The cone scales are sparsely covered with fine hair. The male cone is almost cylindrical in shape and 30 to 50 cm long and 8 to 17 cm in diameter. It becomes narrower towards both ends.
The scales at the middle of the cone are approximately 6cm to 7cm long and 3cm to 3,5cm broad, with prominent 2cm long beaks, which are curved downwards or sideways. The upper and lower surfaces of the scale are variably ribbed. The female cone is barrel-shaped, 50cm to 60cm long and 25cm in diameter, with a mass of up to 27kg. The median cone scales are about 8,5cm long and 5,5cm broad. The scale face protrudes 2cm to 2,5cm and is deeply furrowed, wrinkled and pimply. There are usually approximately 15 spirals of scales.
The seeds are red in colour and large, approximately 5cm long and 2cm to 2,5cm in diameter. They are angled as a result of compression and have a fleshy beak.
|semi-shade||dark green||low watering||slow growth||frost-resistant||rare|
The relatively few collectors who possess mature specimens of E. latifrons have found that they grow well in cultivation, as is obvious from the healthy plants in the fine collection at Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden in Cape Town, which was started more than 70 years ago. The plants need very good drainage, however. They would also require sufficient moisture and protection from frost.
E. latifrons has the reputation of being a very slow grower. Professor Charles Joseph Chamberlain came to this conclusion during his visit to Trappes Valley, near Grahamstown, in 1912 (Chamberlain, C.J. The Living Cycads). He spoke to ‘a pleasant, gray-haired lady’, the owner of a house where two specimens of E. latifrons and three of E. altensteinii were growing in the garden. According to her, the plants were planted there ‘when she came to that house as a bride forty-six years before’. She thought that the specimens of E. altensteinii might have grown 25cm during that time, but ‘that the E. latifrons did not seem to have grown any, although they always had green leaves’. Two or more years may pass between the formation of sets of leaves.”
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