Does my cycad need a permit?

  1. Does my cycad need a permit?

South Africa has a very strong national market for cycads with high demand for large "statement" cycads. The harvesting of wild cycads is illegal nationally in South Africa [prohibition notice]. Unfortunately due to the high demand for large cycads the illegal market has blossomed to such an extent that nearly 70% of all South Africa's cycad species are threatened with extinction.
There are three types of illegal traders:

  1. The opportunist - these are the people who make massive profits by arranging for cycads to be poached or buying poached cycads cheaply and selling them on at a very high profit;
  2. The egotist - these are buyers who buy/collect cycads to show them off. Both a high diversity of cycad species and the size of cycads are very important to these buyers; and
  3. The naive - these are buyers who get fooled by a crafty seller.

Don’t be fooled - you as the buyer have the responsibility to ensure you know exactly where your cycad comes from and if you are caught with a wild cycad or a non-permitted cycad you have committed a crime and face up to 10 years in jail or heavy fines and risk having your cycads seized! You further risk having any assets used in the commission of the crime or as a result of the crime seized!

Considering the potentially serious consequences for having an illegal cycad in your garden the simple identification key by David L. Jones from Cycads of the World, 1993 below should assist you in identifying whether the cycad you have is exotic or not and assist in identifying the genera of cycad. It's important to note that all indigenous Encephalartos cycad species are protected in South Africa and require permits for one to be in possession of them. Also remember that all of the below mentioned cycads are listed on CITES and would require a CITES import and/or export permits to be traded internationally.





Leaves bipinnate



Leaves pinnate

Unknown, proceed to question 2


Leaflets with prominent midrib

Unknown, proceed to question 3


Leaflets lacking a prominent midrib 

Unknown, proceed to question 5


Leaflet margins entire, lateral veins absent



Leaflet margins irregular or toothed, lateral veins present

Unknown, proceed to question 4


Lateral veins arising at right angles to midrib



Lateral veins arising at acute angle to midrib



Leaflets attached to the upper surface of the rhachis



Leaflets attached to the margins of the rhachis

Unknown, proceed to question 6


Swollen, often colourful small patch of callous tissue at base of upper leaflet margin



Colourful callous tissue absent from the base of the upper leaflet margin

Unknown, proceed to question 7


Leaflets jointed to the rhachis, cataphylls absent on cone stalk

Unknown, proceed to question 9


Leaflets not jointed to the rhachis, cataphylls present on cone stalk

Unknown, proceed to question 8


Sporophyll ends faceted, seeds attached directly to sporophyll, leaflets  weakly decurrent on rhachis 



Sporophyll ends not faceted, seeds attached to sporophylls via a basal        
stalk, leaflets strongly decurrent on rhachis



Leaflets reflexed, prickles absent on petiole and rhachis



Leaflets spreading, prickles present or absent on petiole and rhachis

Unknown, proceed to question 10


Sporophylls with two horns, leaflets entire



Sporophylls lacking horns, leaflets with teeth or entire


If you suspect that you have cycad in your garden for which you do not possess a permit, please contact your provincial conservation department [contact numbers].