Zamioculcas Schott
  • Syn. Aroid.: 71 (1856) 

Notes: Distribution: E. Trop. to S. Africa

General Description

Fleshy seasonally-dormant herbs with stem reduced to a stout, ± rhizomatous underground tuber. Leaves erect, 1–several, subtended by several basal cataphylls; petiole stout, fleshy, pulvinate in upper half, base massively swollen and persistent in dormant phase; blade compound, pinnate; leaflets distant, fleshy, eventually deciduous, propagating vegetatively by formation of tuber at leaflet-base. Inflorescences 1–2, appearing with leaves, borne at leaf-base near ground-level, subtended by several cataphylls. Spathe convolute basally forming short tube, upper part expanded, spreading or reflexed. Spadix ± equalling spathe, lower part enclosed by spathe-tube, bearing pistillate flowers, separated from staminate part by short constricted part bearing sterile flowers, upper exposed part bearing staminate flowers. Flowers unisexual, each with perigon of 4 decussate, subprismatic, subcucullate, fleshy tepals. Staminate flower: stamens 4, shorter than tepals; filaments free, oblong, thick, fleshy; anthers with slender connective, dehiscing by lateral slits; central pistillode clavate, stipitate, equalling tepals. Pistillate flower: staminodes lacking; pistil ovoid, tapering to short style, equalling tepals; ovary 2-locular; ovules solitary in each locule; placentation axile, near base of septum; stigma discoid. Berries borne in ellipsoid infructescence, 1–2-seeded. Seeds lacking endosperm (?).

Notes: The foliage is reported to be poisonous to goats (Msele in E.A.H. 14342). The juice from the leaves is used medicinally for earache in the region of the E. Usambara Mts., Tanzania; the plant is said to be much used medicinally in the Mulanje District of Malawi (Chapman 447), though no details are available.

HABIT : seasonally dormant or evergreen herbs with short, very thick rhizome. LEAVES : few to many, erect, leaflets deciduous during dormancy leaving persistent petiole. PETIOLE : terete, base greatly thickened and succulent, geniculate at apex, sheath ligulate, free almost to the base, very short, inconspicuous. BLADE : pinnatisect, leaflets oblong-elliptic, thickly coriaceous, capable of rooting at base once shed and forming new plants; primary lateral veins of each leaflet pinnate, running into marginal vein, higher order venation reticulate. INFLORESCENCE : 1-2 in each floral sympodium, held at ground level. PEDUNCLE : very short. SPATHE : entirely persistent to fruiting stage, slightly constricted between tube and blade, green without, whitish within, tube convolute, blade longer than tube, expanded and horizontally reflexed at anthesis. SPADIX : sessile, female zone subcylindric, separated from male zone by short constricted zone bearing sterile flowers, male zone cylindric, ellipsoid to clavate, fertile to apex. FLOWERS : unisexual, perigoniate; tepals 4, in two whorls, decussate. MALE FLOWER : tepals subprismatic, apex thickened, stamens 4, shorter than tepals, filaments free, oblong, thick, somewhat flattened, anthers introrse, connective slender, thecae ovate-ellipsoid, dehiscing by apical slit, pistillode clavate, equalling tepals. POLLEN : extruded in strands, extended monosulcate to perhaps fully zonate, ellipsoid, large (mean 60 µm.), exine thick, fossulate-foveolate, apertural exine verrucate. STERILE FLOWERS : each consisting of 4 tepals surrounding a clavate pistillode. FEMALE FLOWER : tepals strongly thickened apically, staminodes lacking, gynoecium equalling tepals, ovary ovoid, 2-locular, ovules 1 per locule, hemianatropous, funicle short, placenta axile near base of septum, style attenuate, stigma large, discoid-capitate. BERRY : depressed-globose with furrow at septum, 1-2-seeded, surrounded by persistent tepals, white, infructescence ellipsoid. SEED : ellipsoid, testa smooth, brown, raphe conspicuous, embryo large, rich in starch, endosperm nearly absent, present only as a few cell layers at chalazal end.

Diagnostic Description

Seasonally dormant or evergreen, rhizomatous geophytes; petiole geniculate apically, base greatly thickened and succulent; ultimate leaflets thick, fine venation reticulate; spathe with convolute tube and spreading blade; spadix constricted between male and female zones; flowers unisexual, perigoniate. Differs from Gonatopus in leaf blades pinnatisect (Gonatopus bi- to quadripinnatifid) and free stamens.


Tropical moist forest, savannas; geophytes on forest floor or in stony ground.


E. Trop. to S. Africa.


in G.P. 3 (2): 994 (1883)

sensu Decne. in Bull. Soc. Bot. Fr. 17: 321 (1870), pro parte, non Schott (1856)

Syn. Aroid.: 71 (1856); Engl. in E.P. 21 (IV. 23B): 304 (1905)

Distribution Map

  • Native distribution
Found in
  • Africa East Tropical Africa Kenya
  • Tanzania
  • South Tropical Africa Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Zimbabwe
  • Southern Africa KwaZulu-Natal


  • 1 Govaerts, R. & Frodin, D.G. (2002). World Checklist and Bibliography of Araceae (and Acoraceae): 1-560. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • 2 S.J. Mayo (1985) Araceae. Flora of Tropical East Africa
  • 3 Gardens, K.""Royal Bot World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. (2008).
  • 4 Mayo, S.J., Bogner, J. & Boyce, P.C. The Genera of Araceae. (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew: 1997).

 Information From

Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA)
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2004. eFloras: Iridaceae. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2013-08-02]
  • A All Rights Reserved
  • B
CATE Araceae
Haigh, A., Clark, B., Reynolds, L., Mayo, S.J., Croat, T.B., Lay, L., Boyce, P.C., Mora, M., Bogner, J., Sellaro, M., Wong, S.Y., Kostelac, C., Grayum, M.H., Keating, R.C., Ruckert, G., Naylor, M.F. and Hay, A., CATE Araceae, 14 Dec 2011 . 17 Dec 2011.
  • C All Rights Reserved
eMonocot. (2010, 1st November). Retrieved Wednesday, 8th February, 2012, from
  • D Content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
WCSP 2014. 'World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; Retrieved 2011 onwards
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