Cycads in South Africa

Tony's report on the 1993 Cycad Conference held in Pretoria, South Africa, a paradise for enthusiasts of these ancient plants.
by Tony King, 34 Keats Avenue, Romford, Essex, RM3 7AR, U.K.
Chamaerops No. 12, published online 23-09-2002

Left: Encephalartos middleburgensi
Right, above: Encephalartos transvenosus in habitat, Modjadji
Right, below: The sinuous trunks of Encephalartos middleburgensi

A love of cycads coupled with a long-held desire to visit South Africa came to fruition this summer when the third International Conference on Cycad Biology was hosted by the Cycad Society of South Africa, in Pretoria.

As is usual with such events, an attractive series of pre- and post-conference tours was organised, which would provide an ideal opportunity to see a little of the country.

I joined fellow EPS members Jacques Deleuze and Andrew Shaw for the flight to Johannesburg, exchanging mid-summer for mid-winter in my first journey across the equator. We arrived at Jan Smuts airport early in the morning and were warmly welcomed by the well-known Mrs. Cynthia Giddy. A short trip then through the rather chilly morning air to Pretoria and our hotel to prepare for the pre-conference tour beginning early the next day.

The 39 of us from around the world boarded the coach on schedule bright and early for this tour, which was to last four days, and was to take us eastwards into the Transvaal province. Several hours later we arrived at the famous reserve at Modjadji to see the forest of Encephalartos transvenosus that has been protected by the local tribe and their 'Rain Queen' for many generations. No other cycad site has such protection, and this is perhaps the only place in South Africa where natural regeneration of any cycads is readily occurring.

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