Encephalartos laevifolius is a tall, slender cycad with even, regular, smooth leafbases. It grows well in full sun and tolerates any soil type, provided the soil is well drained and aerated. It is a relatively slow grower, but very frost-hardy and drought-resistant. Like all cycad species, it prefers moderate watering.
Encephalartos laevifolius has tall stems, often reaching 3 to 4 meters in height. The trunks are comparatively slender for a cycad of this height with diameters usually 25-30 cm. Older stems are often prostrate with the growing ends curving upwards. The leaf bases are small and compressed, giving a characteristic appearance to the trunk. A banding pattern is usually fairly clear, and probably indicates alternations in growing conditions or coning cycles. When there is little or no woolliness at the stem apex, the sharp, upward-pointing and persistent scale leaves are clearly visible.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Encephalartos laevifolius was described in 1926 by Otto Stapf and Joseph Burtt Davy.
The specific name is derived from the Latin word laevis which means ” smooth“, and refers to the smoothness of the leaflets relative to that of the leaflets of E. lanatus.
Cycads use smells and heat to attract and repel insect pollinators. The plants heat up and produce a nasty odor that drives the pollen-covered insects out of the cones of male cycads. The female cones then attract these selfsame insects with a milder, more alluring odor. When the insects move between the sexes, they inadvertently transfer the pollen from the male cones to the receptive ovules of the female cones.
The fleshy outer covering layer of the seeds is desirable food to a range of animals such as monkeys, birds, rodents and bats. Therefore, with any luck, the seeds are discarded some distance away from the parent plant in a hospitable environment in which they are likely to germinate.
Cycads can be used as decorative or focal point plants in gardens and can also be very effective as grouped plantings. In ancient times, indigenous people used to make bread from cycad stems. However, one should note that all parts of cycads are toxic.