Terrestrial, acaulescent, perennial herbs with tuberous or rhizomatous stems. Leaves several, radical, rosulate. Petiole with well-developed sheath, lacking apical pulvinus; blade narrowly elliptic, cordate-sagittate or hastate; primary lateral veins excurrent into margins, finer venation striate. Inflorescence appearing with leaves; peduncle erect, longer than petiole. Spathe convolute and obconic basally, widely spreading and broadly ovate apically, cuspidate, white or brightly coloured. Spadix shorter than spathe, basal part pistillate, sometimes with staminodes scattered between pistils, apical part staminate. Flowers unisexual, lacking perigon, densely congested. Stamens free; anthers lateral, dehiscing by apical pores; connective rather slender. Ovary 1–5-locular, each locule with 1–8 axile to subapical ovules. Berries fleshy, few–many-seeded, green or orange. Seeds with abundant endosperm.
HABIT : seasonally dormant, sometimes evergreen (Z. aethiopica) herbs, tuber depressed-globose, or with thick rhizome (Z. aethiopica). LEAVES : several, radical. PETIOLE : spongiose, sheath long. BLADE : lanceolate, narrowly elliptic, cordate, cordate-sagittate, sagittate, hastate, often variegated by aggregations of pale diaphanous necrotic patches; primary lateral veins pinnate, running into distinct marginal vein, secondary and tertiary laterals parallel-pinnate, higher order venation transverse-reticulate. INFLORESCENCE : solitary in each floral sympodium, appearing with leaves. PEDUNCLE : long, subequal or longer than petiole. SPATHE : unconstricted, persistent, pure white, cream, yellow, pink or rosy purple, lower part convolute forming a short, stout, subcylindric to obconic tube, often dark purple within at base, upper part widely gaping, shorter than or subequal to tube, suberect or recurved with somewhat revolute margins. SPADIX : erect, digitiform, shorter than spathe, sessile or stipitate, male and female zones contiguous, fertile to apex. FLOWERS : unisexual, perigone absent. MALE FLOWER : 2-3-androus, stamens free, anthers oblong, somewhat compressed, subsessile, connective truncate at apex, separating thecae, thecae opposite, oblong, dehiscing by apical pore. POLLEN : extruded in strands, inaperturate, ellipsoid to oblong, medium-sized (mean 40 µm., range 31-49 µm.), exine perfectly psilate to obscurely dimpled. FEMALE FLOWER : either a naked gynoecium or rarely (Z. aethiopica) surrounded by whorl of ca. 3 spathulate to clavate and apically truncate staminodes, ovary ovoid, 1-5-locular, ovules (1-)4(-8) per locule, anatropous, funicle short, placenta axile, style short- to long-attenuate, stigma rather small, discoid-subcapitate. BERRY : obovoid or depressed-globose, 1-several-seeded, usually green or orange, rarely yellow and mucilaginous within (Z. aethiopica). SEED : ovoid to ellipsoid, strophiolate, testa costate, embryo axile, elongate, endosperm copious.
Tuberous or shortly rhizomatous geophytes; leaf blade lanceolate to hastate-sagittate, often variegated; peduncle long, sometimes longer than leaves; spathe obconic to campanulate, white, cream, yellow, pink or rosy purple; spadix fertile to apex, male and female zones contiguous; flowers unisexual, perigone absent; stamens free; plants from Southern Africa (naturalized in America and Asia).