Wood's cycad (Encephalartos woodii) - Kew's specimen in the Temperate House is now producing cones for only the second time ever.
Only one specimen of this cycad has ever been found growing in the wild, and that has long since disappeared. Encephalartos woodii now exists only in botanic gardens. Kew’s plant was grown in a wooden box in the Palm House until April 1997 when it was moved to the Temperate House and planted in a bed in the south end, alongside other South African plants. It is now producing bright orange/yellow male cones for only the second time ever at Kew.
The plant's common name commemorates John Medley Wood, the director of the Natal Government Herbarium, who discovered the solitary male plant in Ngoya forest in Zululand in 1895. Three of its four main stems were collected on a subsequent expedition and have been the source of all the material now grown in botanic gardens around the world. Kew received one of these stems in 1899. Offshoots from the stems sent to South African botanic gardens have since been propagated.
Two other cycads, both Encephalartos altensteinii, are coning in the same section of the Temperate House and are also worth a look!
Cycads are known as living fossils as they have remained unchanged for millions of years. During the Jurassic period (206-144 million years ago) there were more cycads on Earth than any other plant. All parts of the cycad are toxic, possibly to prevent grazing dinosaurs from eating them! Although they look like palms they are more closely related to pine trees. They grow mainly in tropical and subtropical climates and can survive quite harsh conditions. Like all cycads, E. woodii is dioecious; that is, it bears male and female cones on different plants. As no female plants have ever been found, the seed cones are unknown. Most cycads are rare; all 250 species are protected by law.