Sunday, 1 March 2009

Encephalartos villosus

Information from Cycad Society of South Africa:

In 1788, the European botanist, Gaertner, described a cycad cone under the name Zamia villosa. It is now almost certain that this description was based on cone material from Encephalartos caffer - hence the name Zamia villosa has no botanical validity. Proper credit for the name E. villosus goes to Charles A. Lemaire, professor of classical literature in Paris, who was a keen naturalist with a passion for cacti. Lemaire was appointed editor of the horticultural journal "Illustration Horticole" - a post which he held for 16 years. In 1867 he published a description in that journal of E. villosus and E. ghellinckii "in order to appreciate the merit and superior beauty of these two species". Early records from the Durban Botanic Gardens indicate that Mr. M.J. McKen, its first curator, sent a large number of cycad specimens to public gardens and on 22 February 1867, he sent 25 plants, collected near Umtwalume on the Natal South Coast, to one Ambroise Verschaffelt in Ghent, Belgium. Verschaffelt was a botanically minded nurseryman and a close friend of Lemaire's and it seems likely that the Natal consignment contained the E. villosus material on which Lemaire based his botanical text.
Although the species is very common, it is clear that many hundreds of plants have been taken from habitats. In the Eastern Cape, large habitat areas have been cleared for pineapple plantings and in Natal many of the E. villosus areas have been sacrificed to banana crops and afforestation projects. However, large populations are relatively well protected in reserves (e.g. Krantzkloof, near Durban) and it is hoped that these will remain for posterity. Relative commonness in a cycad species can never justify complacency in the conservation effort.
E. villosus is very well represented internationally with specimens in most of the bigger European botanical gardens, e.g. Amsterdam, Utrecht, Meise, Copenhagen, Berlin, Gottingen, Munich, Zurich, Paris, Dublin, Edinburg and Kew. The best specimens to be seen are those in gardens close to the habitats, i.e. the Durban Botanic Gardens and the nearby Old Fort Gardens.
Recorded in 1885 growing at Monserrate in Mexico, alongside Macrozamia cylindrica, above Arethusa's font.

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