The Wild Cycad Conservancy

Protecting the world’s most threatened plant species from extinction in South Africa

Cycads are the most threatened group of plants on earth.

All over the world, their numbers are declining rapidly. South Africa is no exception, with many of our indigenous cycad species either already extinct or facing extinction at the hands of poaching for the horticultural trade.

wild cycad conservation

The Wild Cycad Conservancy is a non-profit organisation committed to wild cycad conservation and protection in South Africa.

Our Approach

The Wild Cycad Conservancy (or WCC) takes a three-pronged approach to cycad conservation.

Securing habitat for wild populations

Securing habitat for wild populations

The WCC works to secure reserves for Critically Endangered cycad species. . We currently operate in the Eastern Cape and the Lilie Cycad Reserve. We are the only cycad conservation organisation that protects and manages reserves in South Africa that are home to these species.

Establishing a living collection

Establishing assurance colonies for the most vulnerable species

The WCC finds and secures representative specimens of threatened South African cycad species and protects these in a living collection or assurance colony. This provides a gene bank for cycad species that can be used to re-establish populations in the wild.

Encouraging cycad research

Leading and promoting cycad research

The WCC works with researchers and students, not only in South Africa but all over the world, encouraging a better understanding of the biology and ecology of this ancient plant group. We support students, studying cycads, by providing bursaries.

Wild Cycad Conservancy (WCC) is a public benefit organisation established by a group of passionate plant conservationists to mobilise action and resources for the conservation and recovery of southern Africa’s rich cycad diversity. Our goal is to act quickly to stem the ongoing loss of wild cycads, before it is too late.

– WCC Chief Executive Officer, Wynand van Eeden

Cycads: Where has it all gone wrong?


South Africa is one of the hotspots for cycad diversity.

Of the 351 cycad species found around the world, South Africa is home to 38 indigenous species in two genera, Encephalartos and Stangeria. This is equivalent of 11% of global diversity and more than half of the 66 species found in Africa. 

  • 11% 11%

South Africa has lost more species in the last 20 years than in the previous 200 years and has lost more species than any other country. 




Five species are considered Extinct in the wild


Ten species are Critically Endangered, including three species that are functionally extinct because only a few individuals survive in the wild


Four species are Endangered


Nine are Vulnerable


And seven are Near Threatened

Poaching for the illegal horticultural trade in cycads, is the leading reason for the extinction spiral in South Africa. 

Other countries face their own unique challenges, including habitat loss for agricultural expansion, and biological invasions but illegal trade is the dominant threat in South Africa.

Living with dinosaurs

Cycads represent an ancient lineage of seed plants. Some cycad fossils date back 300 million years and have been found on every continent. They were once abundant during the Jurassic period, existing alongside the dinosaurs. During this time, they dominated forests in numbers, size and diversity along with conifers and Gingkoales. However, when dinosaurs became extinct some 65 million years ago, cycads survived. And they have helped us understand what seed plants may have looked like millions of years ago.

Despite their ancient lineage and some remarkable primitive features, such as motile sperm, cycads are very much part of the modern world.  Recent scientific studies show that all current cycads diversified over the past 12 million years and they have adapted and evolved to live in forest, savanna, grassland and semi desert habitats. They often occur on poor soil and in rocky areas where they can survive fires and have less competition from other plants. Individual plants can live for hundreds of years. One of the oldest known cycads is growing in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, in London. It was collected from South Africa in 1772.