Encephalartos Natalensis, the Natal cycad or giant cycad, is a species of cycad that is endemic to the Qumbu and Tabankulu areas of the northern part of the Eastern Cape, and through most of KwaZulu-Natal. The number of mature individuals of this species is declining and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed its conservation status as being “near threatened“.
The Natal cycad grows to a height of 6 m (20 ft) or more. It may have a single trunk or may be branched from the base. The trunk is topped by a rosette of large, evergreen, pinnate leaves somewhat twisted near the tip, which may be 3 m (10 ft) long. The leaflets are dark green and about 6 cm (2.4 in) wide; they may be untoothed, or they may have one or more small prickles on either edge. The longest leaflets are in the center of the leaf, and the leaflets nearest the leaf base may be replaced by spines, a fact that distinguishes this cycad from the otherwise similar Encephalartos altensteinii. The Natal cycad is dioecious, having male and female cones on separate plants. The male cones are velvety and about 45 by 11 cm (18 by 4 in) in size. Pollen is produced from April to June. The two or three female cones are slightly woolly, yellowish-green and cylindrical, 55 by 25 cm (22 by 10 in) in size, the scales being covered with small knobs. The cones split open when ripe revealing the bright red seeds which are about 5 cm (2.0 in) long.