Monday, November 02, 2009

Lightning-deflecting soul-protecting Stangeria

Since we haven't had a cycad in a little while, here's a special one. For years it wasn't recognised as such at all but Stangeria eriopus is indeed a cycad and a rather unique one. Sitting alongside the Bowenia species in the family Stangeriaceae, this is an old school primal species that was originally identified as a fern.

stangeria eriopus1

There are two "forms" of Stangeria eriopus; a grassland form with a couple of floppy small flat leaves and a big-leaved forest form. This specimen in Kew's palmhouse is presumably the forest form. There's a lot of trivia associated with this species too. My favourite snippet of Stangeria-lore is that planting one at each corner of your house will, according to Zulu tradition, ward off lightning strikes. At least one leading cycad expert has put this into practice and happily reports no lightning strikes to date.

stangeria eriopus2

Perhaps more seriously, Stangeria caudices are used (and poached to be used) in traditional medicines to ward off various things including spirit possession. As a cycad Stangeria is of course toxic so taking it orally will result in vomitting which may be the reaction traditional medicine practitioners are looking for. Personally I love its beautiful leaves and would love a Stangeria lightning rod.

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