Solitary or clustered, spiny, acaulescent, erect, or high-climbing, hapaxanthic or pleonanthic, dioecious, rattan palms. Stem eventually becoming bare, with short to long internodes, branching at the base from axillary or leaf-opposed buds. Leaves pinnate, very rarely bifid, usually with a terminal cirrus except in a few acaulescent species and in juvenile individuals; sheath splitting in acaulescent species, in the exposed area densely armed with spines, these frequently organised into whorls and in a few species forming interlocking galleries occupied by ants, scaly or floccose indumentum often abundant between the spines and along their margins; ocrea rarely present; knee present in climbing species; flagellum absent; petiole usually well developed, grooved to rounded adaxially, rounded abaxially, variously armed; rachis and cirrus, except in acaulescent species, armed with grouped reflexed grapnel spines and scattered caducous tomentum; leaflets single-fold, entire, linear to broadly lanceolate, regularly arranged or grouped, rarely fanned within the groups, variously armed with bristles along the longitudinal veins and margins, midribs prominent, 1 pair of lateral veins sometimes large, transverse veinlets short, often conspicuous. Inflorescences axillary but adnate to the internode and leaf sheath of the following leaf, very rarely several inflorescences produced simultaneously from the axils of the most distal leaves, the stem then hapaxanthic, branching to 2–3 orders, staminate and pistillate inflorescences superficially similar, but the staminate usually branching to 1 order more than the pistillate; peduncle absent or present, sometimes very long, erect or pendulous, variously armed; prophyll conspicuous, 2-keeled, woody, coriaceous, membranous or papery, variously armed, tubular at first, later splitting along ±its entire length; peduncular bracts usually absent; rachis bracts ±distichous, similar to the prophyll, also splitting along their entire length, sometimes with the tips remaining enclosed within the tip of the prophyll to form a beak, the flowers at anthesis thus enclosed, or with the tips free, and all bracts but the prophyll normally falling at anthesis, the flowers then exposed or very rarely the bracts persisting; prophyll often empty, sometimes subtending a first-order branch as the other rachis bracts; first-order branches usually covered with abundant floccose indumentum, and bearing very small, truncate, ± distichous bracts, more rarely bracts larger and tattering, each bract subtending a second-order branch adnate to the first-order branch above the node; second-order branches in pistillate inflorescence bearing dyads, in staminate inflorescence branched a further time to give 3 orders of branching, each branch subtended by a bract, staminate inflorescence with flowers sometimes strictly distichous and crowded, or ± distant and subdistichous, sometimes arranged distantly along one side of the rachilla, each flower subtended by a small triangular scale-like bract, more rarely by a short tubular bract, the bracts then ± imbricate. Staminate flowers bearing a short, tubular, 2-keeled prophyll (the involucre of Beccari) sometimes ± stalk-like, frequently very inconspicuous; calyx cupular, striate, shallowly 3-lobed; corolla exceeding the calyx, usually at least twice as long, divided almost to the base into 3 narrow triangular petals; stamens 6, borne at the mouth of the tubular corolla base, usually ± equal, rarely of 2 sizes, filaments slender to rather broad, fleshy, terminating in slender to broad connectives, anthers narrow elongate to broad and somewhat sinuous, introrse; pistillode short, trifid to elongate, slender and unlobed, or absent. Pollen ellipsoidal, bi-symmetric; apertures equatorially disulcate or, rarely, equatorially or subequatorially di-porate; ectexine tectate or semi-tectate, psilate, finely to coarsely perforate, foveolate, rugulate, finely to coarsely reticulate, or densely spinulose or clavate or, rarely, ectexine intectate with long spines on a thick foot layer, aperture margins usually similar to surrounding ectexine; infratectum columellate, longest axis 16–55 µm [56/101]. Pistillate inflorescences like the staminate but with more robust rachillae, pistillate flowers borne in a dyad with a sterile staminate flower; dyad prophyll (involucrophore) usually conspicuously angular, stalk-like; prophyll of pistillate flower (involucre) inconspicuous or cup-like, forming a cushion bearing the flower. Sterile staminate flower quickly shed, as the fertile but with empty anthers. Pistillate flowers only slightly larger than the staminate; calyx cupular, striate, shallowly 3-lobed; corolla ± twice as long as the calyx, divided to ± 1/2 into 3 triangular valvate petals; staminodes 6, borne at the mouth of the corolla tube, with empty anthers; gynoecium incompletely trilocular, triovulate, ovary variable in shape, scaly, stigmas 3, recurved, fleshy, ovules basally attached, anatropous. Fruit variously rounded, obpyriform, turbinate, cylindrical or oblate with apical stigmatic remains; epicarp covered in neat vertical rows of reflexed, sometimes resinous scales, mesocarp thin, endocarp not differentiated. Seed, usually only 1 reaching maturity, angular or rounded, covered with thick, sweet or sour and bitter sarcotesta, endosperm deeply ruminate; embryo basal. Germination adjacent-ligular; eophyll usually pinnate, sometimes with congested leaflets and appearing almost palmate. Cytology: 2n = 26.
Variable genus of mostly climbing palms, some acaulescent and erect, found in Himalayan foothills to south China, throughout Southeast Asia to New Guinea; sheaths, petioles and rachis are usually densely armed and the leaf usually terminates in a cirrus; pleonanthic (rarely hapaxanthic) and dioecious, the inflorescences are either short, with all bracts splitting but remaining enclosed in the prophyll, or longer, with bracts splitting to their bases and mostly caducous.
Species are mostly confined to primary tropical rain forest on a great variety of soils, some species with narrow ecological requirements. A few are of a rather more weedy nature, abundant in forest habitats with high-light intensities such as riverbanks; one species in Borneo, Daemonorops longispatha, grows on the landward margin of mangrove forest. Some species are strictly montane, occurring at altitudes up to ca. 2500 m above sea level. Several species in Borneo are confined to heath forest, or to limestone or serpentine rock. With so many species, it is difficult to give more precise ecological data.
The canes of many species are of good quality and enter the rattan trade as well as being used locally. The apices of several species are sought after for food. In the past, red resin from the fruits of species related to and including Daemonorops draco and D. rubra was collected as ‘dragon’s blood’ for medicinal or dyeing purposes. At one time, ‘dragon’s blood’ was an item of trade between Borneo, Sumatra and Malay Peninsula, and China.