Cycads are the oldest living species of seed plants in the world. They date back 340 million years, with only 347 species of cycad left today. Native to South Africa’s Eastern Cape, the Albany cycad is one of the rarest species of cycad, with its glossy, dark green leaves that make it one of the most visually attractive species. Consequently, fewer than 100 mature individuals are alive in the wild, the result of a 80 percent decline in the last century. Their sparse distribution makes reproduction impossible without hand pollination by humans.
Given its attractiveness as a species, the Albany cycad is now protected under CITES, which prohibits its trade, and is housed in several botanic garden collections. In 2014, 22 Albany cycads were stolen from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town; they had been housed there since 1913. The garden has resorted to microdot technology to dissuade future theft, and aid the recovery of stolen plants.