Encephalartos latifrons 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Plantae Tracheophyta Cycadopsida Cycadales Zamiaceae

Scientific Name: Encephalartos latifrons Lehm.
Common Name(s):
English Albany Cycad

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2acd; B2ab(ii,iii,v); C1+2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2010
Date Assessed: 2009-10-31
Assessor(s): Donaldson, J.S.
Reviewer(s): Agenbag, L. & Bösenberg, J.D.
E. latifrons 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 km² 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.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Encephalartos latifrons 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. This scattered distribution could be because these plants often grow on rocky outcrops, habitats that are naturally widely spaced within the landscape (Kemp 1986, Norstog and Nicholls 1997, Whitelock 2002) or it could be an artefact of habitat transformation, i.e. the cycads have persisted in areas least affected by land use. The altitude at which the plants are found varies between 200 and 600 m asl.
Countries occurrence:
South Africa (Eastern Cape Province)
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:9
Number of Locations:2
Lower elevation limit (metres):200
Upper elevation limit (metres):600
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The current wild population is estimated to number between 60 and 100 mature individuals. The actual number is uncertain because the last official count was done more than 10 years ago, when microchips were inserted into all remaining plants. Since then, not all plants have been monitored and, in a recent survey of plants to gather DNA material, there seemed to be less than 60 plants in the wild (da Silva et al. MS). The plants are widely scattered, often >1 km apart.

A recent study of the conservation genetics of both in situ and ex situ populations of E. latifrons (da Silva et al. MS) showed that there is relatively little variation between subpopulations suggesting that all the remaining plants belong to what was once a single large population with relatively high levels of geneflow between subpopulations. The study also showed that there is a high level of genetic variation within the remaining population (high proportions of polymorphic loci, moderate to high Nei’s and Shannon’s diversity indices, as well as moderate levels of heterozygosity). This is greater than in many other cycad species where there tends to be low genetic variation within populations.

Six distinct genotypic groups were detected in the wild, with two confined to a single site. Several other genotypes were also represented at these sites, meaning that they represent the majority of the genetic variation remaining in the wild. Their importance to the survival of the species is indisputable and they should be considered areas of high conservation priority.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:60-100
Population severely fragmented:Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The plants grow on rocky outcrops and hill slopes, usually amongst scrub bush vegetation, but also in open grassland. They also occur along dry river courses. The distribution area of E. latifrons occurs in the following vegetation units: Kowie Thicket, Suurberg Quartzite Fynbos and Suurberg Shale Fynbos

The soils in this region are mainly Glenrosa and Mispah forms. Other soils may occur. Lime soils are rare or absent. The underlying geology of this area is quartzitic sandstone, shale and micaceous siltstone.

The annual rainfall varies between 600-1,250mm and is fairly evenly distributed during the year, however, a summer peak usually occurs. Frost does not normally occur. The summers may be hot and fairly dry.
Generation Length (years):100

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): E. latifrons now occurs in areas where the predominant land uses are cultivation (pineapples and chicory) as well as stock farming. The impact of land use on E. latifrons is difficult to assess, but the early reports of Pearson (unpublished letters) and Chamberlain (1919) imply that at least some habitat was lost as a result of agricultural activity. Repeat photography, using photographs first taken between 1906 and 1945, indicated that all the plants occurring at seven different sites had disappeared by 1996 (Donaldson and Bösenberg 1999). However, this cannot be attributed directly to land use as, in most cases, the areas in which the plants occurred were neither ploughed nor cleared.

Trade in cycads is currently the greatest threat and probably explains the decline observed in the repeat photography study. The removal of relatively large numbers of plants by collectors has been recorded with some plants recovered by law enforcement and conservation agencies. The demand for wild collected plants remains high because E. latifrons is regarded as scarce and it is one of the most highly valued species in the cycad trade.

Population modelling of other species of Encephalartos (Raimondo and Donaldson 2003) showed that species such as E. latifrons are extremely sensitive to the removal of adult plants because population persistence over long periods relies on adult survival and not seedling recruitment. As a result, the species is very vulnerable to trade in mature plants.

It also seems likely that the natural pollinators are extinct. No natural seed set has been recorded in recent years and the current cohort of adult plants indicates that the last recruitment event was more than 50 years ago.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is listed on Appendix I of the CITES Appendices and is listed in the national Threatened or Protected Species regulations, which prohibit trade in wild plants. None of the plants occur naturally within any reserves but plants have been introduced to two small nature reserves within the original distribution range. At one site, mature plants were replanted in the reserve after they were illegally removed from the wild. In the second case, a trial planting of seedlings was also undertaken to establish a new population.

A Population and Habitat Viability Assessment was developed in July 2006 and this was followed by the development of a species management plan in 2009. The plan will be implemented in 2010.

Ex situ conservation collections have also been established at several botanic gardens. One of the largest, is at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which has 19 mature plants. Genetic studies showed that the Kirstenbosch collection has similar levels of genetic diversity to wild stocks and represents all wild genotype groups.

Classifications [top]

3. Shrubland -> 3.5. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
3. Shrubland -> 3.8. Shrubland - Mediterranean-type Shrubby Vegetation
4. Grassland -> 4.5. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.3. Species re-introduction -> 3.3.1. Reintroduction
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Systematic monitoring scheme:Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
In-Place Species Management
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:Yes
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.2. Small-holder farming
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.3. Agro-industry farming
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.2. Gathering terrestrial plants -> 5.2.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.4. Loss of pollinator
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.8. Other

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Pets/display animals, horticulture
 National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Establishing ex-situ production *

Bibliography [top]

Chamberlain, C.J. 1919. The Living Cycads. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Donaldson, J.S, and Bösenberg, J.D. 1999. Changes in the abundance of South African cycads during the 20th century: preliminary data from the study of matched photographs. In: C.-J. Chen (ed.), Biology and Conservation of Cycads. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Cycad Biology, Academic Publishers, Beijing.

Goode, D. 1989. Cycads of Africa. Struik Winchester, Cape Town.

Goode, D. 2001. Cycads of Africa. D & E Cycads of Africa, Gallo Manor, Johannesburg, South Africa.

IUCN. 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2010.3). Available at: (Accessed: 2 September 2010).

Kemp, M. 1986. Focus on Encephalartos latifrons. Encephalartos 8: 8-15.

Norstog, K.J. and Nicholls, T.J. 1997. The Biology of the Cycads. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Raimondo, D.C. and Donaldson, J.S. 2003. Responses of cycads with different life histories to the impact of plant collecting: simulation models to determine important life history stages and population recovery times. Biological Conservation 111: 345-358.

Whitelock, L.M. 2002. The Cycads. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Citation: Donaldson, J.S. 2010. Encephalartos latifrons. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T41892A10571584. . Downloaded on 21 November 2017.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided