Cycads are a primordial group of cone-producing plants. Of the thirty-eight species found in Southern Africa, thirty-seven belong to the group Encephalartos and one to the group Sangeria.
Photographs © Tristan Govender
Easily identified by a large crown of rigid, evergreen leaves that sit atop a robust, woody trunk, the cycad is a prehistoric wonder. Scientific dating has confirmed that cycads have been around since the Triassic and Jurassic ages, possibly even earlier than that.
Unfortunately, cycads are not as prolific as they once were. Their unique and majestic appearance has made them both a sought-after collector’s item and a popular choice in garden landscaping designs. Sadly, the growing popularity of the plant has stimulated the illegal trade of cycads which has left these majestic gymnosperms susceptible to poaching.
The Lillie Cycad
Of the various species of cycads, one is particularly rare. The Encephalartos Dyerianos or, the Lillie Cycad to the layperson, only occurs naturally on one hill in the world. One could scour the planet and not encounter a naturally occurring Encephalartos Dyerianos until they find themselves at the Lillie Cycad Reserve in Selati.
Photograph © Tristan Govender
What makes this piece of Selati optimal real estate for the Lillie Cycad colony is a combination of several harmonious biotic and abiotic factors. Two integral factors include effective water drainage and ample sunlight. Being perched atop a granite hill means that water drains efficiently and no natural features obscure the rays of the sun.
Owing to the critically endangered status of this species, the Selati Lillie Reserve is patrolled by an armed anti-poaching unit, whose sole mandate is to protect these ancient beauties. Even with a camp in the reserve, EcoTraining must be granted special permission from the necessary authorities before we may explore the world of the Lillie Cycad.
Though it is deeply disheartening that cycads face such persecution, it is important to remember the old cliché of ‘knowledge is power’. Many who support the illegal trade of cycads do so without realising their indiscretions. While ignorance is no excuse it does mean that much of the demand is stimulated, not by malice and or unfounded beliefs as is with rhino horn or pangolin scales, but by oblivion.
Photographs © Albie Venter
Guides and Guardians
As guides and guardians of the natural world, EcoTraining feel a sense of responsibility to educate and endear students to the plight of the cycad. What better way to do so than by sharing this magical piece of land with passionate and inspired students who are eager to protect and preserve a heritage of millions of years.
About the Author:
Victoria Craddock a past apprentice Field Guide student of EcoTraining and freelance Blogger.