Chimanimani’s prehistoric plant

Chimanimani Cycad

by NGONI SHUMBA

CYCADS are a pre-historic plant species that endured and survived weather extremes that wiped dinosaurs out of existence.

Like a special place that it is, Chimanimani has its own species that is exclusive to these mountains—Chimanimani cycad or Encephalartos chimanimaniensis.

Its a species of cycad that is endemic to these mountains.

The beautiful rock outcrops of the enchanting mountains

This species thrives in the montane grassland which enjoys rainfall of over 1,800 mm per annum, and at an altitude of about 1,000 metres above sea level.

It is associated with schist and quartzite sediments in granitic mountains.

Sadly, cycad collectors are threatening to completely destroy its occurrence in the wild and it is now a specially protected threatened species.

This proves over and over again how humanity is driving many species into extinction both directly and indirectly.

According to a 2003 assessment only between 500 and 1,000 plants remained in the wild. However, another researcher – Capela (2006) provided an estimate of 1,200 mature plants at Makurupini and an additional 300 at Morambo, besides smaller isolated colonies.

Interestingly, the plant is relied on as a food source by locals in times of drought. Albeit an unsustainable food source considering how slowly they grow.

The sturdy plant is peeled, cut up into cubes and soaked in water for days before it is pounded and cooked, locals said.

Disappointingly, very few locals appreciate just how special and rare cycads are in general let alone that there is a species unique to Chimanimani.