HabitatCoastal scrub on stabilized sand dunes, or when found farther inland in wooded scrub, generally in the shade of taller vegetation. Rainfall is 1000 - 1250 mm (39 - 49 in) annually, falling mainly in summer. The climate is typically hot and humid, and no frost occurs.
DistributionSouth Africa, from Zululand, north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal province to near Sordwana Bay, which is about 650 km (400 miles) north of Maputo, Mozambique.
Encephalartos ferox displays considerable variation. Generally, the stems are subterranean as a result of the action of their contractile roots, but in the northern limits of the cycad's range in Mozambique, stems as long as 2 m (6.6 ft) are not rare. Leaflets vary from flat with small marginal spines, ruffled with lobes twisted out of the leaflet plane, and finally, with rolled margins, giving an almost tubular effect. The plants with the rolled leaflets, sometimes called curly-leaved ferox, are from the district of Gaza, near Chongoene, Mozambique.
Plants in cultivation at the Fairchild Tropical Garden and Montgomery Botanical Centre, Miami, Florida, have coned, and the cone colour and sporophylls are different from common E. ferox.
Encephalartos ferox is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and interesting of the African cycads. It is fast growing, easy to grow, and readily available. These attributes make E. ferox one of the most familiar cycads in botanical gardens, conservatories, and private collections. Colourful cones are unusual in cycads, most of which tend toward shades of brown and green. Encephalartos ferox is a notable exception with cones usually bright red, red-orange, rarely yellow. They are the most colourful cycad cones known.
Cultivation of E. ferox is quite simple. Provided with well-drained soil, sufficient fertilizer, and a bit of heat, it is one of the most rapidly growing cycads. In cultivation, E. ferox has been known to reach coning size in less than 10 years.
Most of the wild populations of Encephalartos ferox grow along the coastline of South Africa and Mozambique in pure sand. Usually, they re found under some sort of tree cover, affording them protection from the brutal heat that is common in their habitat. Loss of habitat, in Mozambique as a result of increased human habitation and in South Africa as a result of deforestation, has reduced this cycad's range. Seeming to set a trend for the future. In more recent years, collection of plants for the nursery trade has also taken its toll. Because of its extensive range, much of it in uninhabited areas, it has remained in relatively large numbers. Yet the conservation status of E. ferox should probably be considered as threatened.
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