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Print Fact SheetEncephalartos



CITES Listing

Appendix I

Common names



All South African cycad species (Encephalartos spp. and Stangeria eriopus) are listed on CITES Appendix I.  While no international trade is permitted in wild plants, trade is permitted in artificially propagated plants that meet certain requirements, for example, the stem diameter is less than 15 cm.

The National Cycad Policy, when redrafted, will detail trade standards such as the types of shipping containers that may be used, how these containers should be sealed and when microchips are needed.  Once completed, this information will be made available on the DEAT website (

Identifying cycadsUnless complex botanical keys are used,  specific cycad identification is very difficult.  However, as all cycads are protected by CITES and national legislation, it is sufficient to recognise that a plant is a cycad.  Become familiar with the terminology of cycad structure and the key to cycad genera, but always remember to call an expert for assistance (see Contacts). 

Note that there are three plant families containing cycads.  Of the two genera found in South Africa, Stangeria has a single species, Stangeria eriopus. This plant, which occurs on the East coast of South Africa, has soft, fern-like pinnate leaves from 30cm to 2m long (see picture).  Lateral veins arise at almost right angles to the midrib of the leaflets.    

Members of the genus Encephalartos can be recognized by the following basic characteristics:

Illegally harvested cycads often have their leaves and roots removed making them look like tree trunks.  Seedlings may also be deliberately mislabeled.

Note that these are basic characteristics: if in doubt, call an expert.


On a NATIONAL level, this legislation differs from province to province and is policed by the Nature Conservation authority. In the Western Cape (and probably the Eastern and Northern Cape who were all part of the same province in 1974 when the ordinance was passed) Encephalartos and all other species and hybrids, are listed on Schedule 3 (Endangered Flora) and one requires a permit from Nature Conservation to move, sell, buy, donate, receive, cultivate and sell Endangered Flora and to own adult cycads. When buying endangered flora, make sure that the seller is registered with Nature Conservation and that they issue an Invoice. For more information, please contact the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board or your provincial authority.

On an INTERNATIONAL level all species and hybrids of Encephalartos are on Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This means that wild collected material may not be traded and for each and every artificially cultivated Encephalartos plant or piece of a plant or a cone or pollen or seed, being carried over an international border requires a CITES Export Permit issued by the authority of the exporting country, and a CITES Import Permit issued by the authority of the importing country. Buyers are advised to make sure that the seller is a reputable, registered dealer and that an invoice is issued with the sale. For more info on CITES, please visit their website: - they give a great deal of information. including a list of national authorities of all member countries, or speak to your local authority.

Finally, please note that the above legislation has nothing whatsoever to do with plant health and cleanliness legislation that is applicable to the import/export of all plant material and which is usually under the jurisdiction of the Dept./Ministry of Agriculture.