Pandanus amaryllifolius – The only Pandanus with fragrant leaves

P. amaryllifolius is one of the plants that is capable of evoking nostalgic memories of South-East Asian life solely by its scent.

Pandanaceae is a paleotropical monocot family that comprises 4 genera (ie. Pandanus, Freycinetia, Martellidendron and Sararanga). Pandanus is the largest genus with 8 subgenera and 700 species, follow by Freycinetia (200 species), Martellidendron (6 species) and Sararanga (2 species) (Buerki et al., 2012).

The distinct features of Pandanaceae are its marginal and midrib prickles on the leaves (Stone, 1978 and Steven, 2001). Pandanaceae could be a challenge to be distinguish in the field with Cyclanthaceae and Arecaceae because of their similar structure and habit. Nevertheless confusion with Cyclanthaceae, which is a sister group with Pandanceae (APG III, 2009) can be differentiated by the arrangement of leaves: Pandanaceae leaves are mostly arranged in 3-4 ranks whereas Cyclanthaceae are mostly in 2 ranks (Stevens, 2001). Pandanaceae can be differentiated from Arecaceae by their leaf development. Arecaceae  leaves are folded when young but will eventually split at the margin as they expand while Pandanaceae leaves remain entire.

P. amaryllifolius is in the division Magnoliophyta; class Liliopsida; order Pandanales; family Pandanaceae; genus Pandanus and subgenus Kurzia (Buerki et al., 2012).

P. amaryllifolius was first described by Scottish botanist William Roxburgh in 1832, and revised by American botanist Benjamin C. Stone in 1978. P. amaryllifolius origin remains a mystery and controversy because there is only one report of a male flowering specimen, none of a female, and the species seems not to be known in the wild (Stone, 1978; Setyowati & Siemonsma, 1999 and Wakte et al., 2012). The origin of P. amaryllifolius is still therefore only conjecture and its first  description by William Roxburgh in 1832 from Amboyna- Moluku Island, Indonesia and record of the only flowering specimen known from Stone (1978) in Moluccas- Western-most New Guinea.

P. amaryllifolius is well-known as the only Pandanus with scented leaves (Setyowati & Siemonsma, 1999 and Wakte et al., 2009). The sweet smell of freshly harvested leaves is similar to the fragrant of expensive Basmati-India, Jasmine-Thai and Kaorimai-Japan rice (Wakte et al., 2009). This aroma characteristic of P. amaryllifolius leaves has stimulated research into its biochemistry (Teng et al., 1979 and Routray & Rayaguru, 2010) in hope to extract an essential oil. Research outcome showed very low yield, therefore P. amaryllifolius has not been widely cultivated as crop.

Identification of P. amaryllifolius through other morphological parts is restricted because no one has ever captured the evidence of its whole inflorescence nor fruits (Purseglove, 1972; Stone, 1978 and Setyowati & Siemonsma,1999). However morphologically, P. amaryllifolius is known by its glacous and keeled beneath leaves, prickles along the leaf margin apex and the distinctive smell within all sizes and growth phase. The aerial root form is prominent among members of the genus (Stone, 1983). According to Stone (1978) and Setyowati & Siemonsma (1999), P. amaryllifolius has two distinct growth forms- small or young and big or mature growth forms.

Small growth form: Perpetuated sucker shoots (Fig C). Stem slender, 1-1.6 m tall, 2-5 cm in diameter, decumbent and ascending, emitting aerial roots throughout its length. Leaves oblong, 25-75 cm x 2-5 cm, rather pale green, somewhat thin and flaccid, more or less glaucous and keeled beneath, the apex with rather distinct twin lateral pleats, the margins entire (Fig B), unarmed except a few minute prickles less than 1 mm long near the apex. Flowers and fruits unknown (Setyowati & Siemonsma,1999).

Large growth form: Eventually producing an erect stem (Fig H), 2-4.5 m tall, 15 cm in diameter, unbranched or sparsely branched, bearing large aerial prop roots. Leaves oblong, 150-220 cm x 7-9 cm, apex acute, rather dark green above, glaucous and keeled beneath, the twin lateral pleats above somewhat prominent, margins entire, unarmed except near leaf apex with small antrorse prickles about 1 mm long and very rarely with 1-3 small stout prickles near the base (Fig E). Female inflorescence unknown. Male inflorescence if produced is probably pendent, up to 60 cm long, the spathes 90 cm long, white, or the lower ones with green foliaceous tips, bearing several oblong spikes to 35 cm long or more, several cm wide; upper ones much shorter, about 9-10 cm long, 2 cm wide, composed of many crowded staminal phalanges; staminal phalange with column 4-9 mm x 1.5-2.5 mm, compressed to flat, containing 3-6 stamens with very short filaments, 0.5-1.5 mm x 0.4-0.6 mm and oblong anthers, 2.5 mm long (Setyowati & Siemonsma,1999).

Young and mature P. amaryllifolius

Identification keys for P. amaryllifolius from Flora of China by Kun and DeFilipps (2010) records herbaceous growth, sterile (lacking inflorescences) and spinose folded leaf apex margin as the main character to be differentiate from other. Leaf anatomy of Java Pandanus done by Rahayu et al. (2012) shows P. amaryllifolius has distinct circular raphides (needle liked crystals). Both of these studies covered only a limited number of species, Flora of China was 6 species and Java was 15 species. In short, since the nature of this plant is sterile and it only reproduces vegatatively, this character is best suited for delimiting it from other Pandanus.

A study on genetic diversity of P. amaryllifolius in India indicates it has low genetic variation despite its widespread population. The vegetative reproductive system of P. amaryllifolius is believed to be a result of long term cultivation. At the same time, this finding substantiates the fact P. amaryllifolius has not been discovered in the wild and only survives in domesticated conditions (Wakte et al., 2012).

According to Buerki et al. (2012), P. amaryllifolius was positioned in Core Pandanus: Subclade I (Agrostigma). Pandanus was divided into two clades which Subclade I comprises subgenera Coronata, Lophostigma, Kurzia (subgenus of P. amaryllifolius) and Rykia, whereas Subclade II (Pandanus) with subgenera Eydouxia, Pandanus and Vinsonia. Delimitation of subgeneric boundaries in Subclade 1 is a work in progress by morphological studies. In order to understand more about the evolution and history of Pandanaceae, additional DNA markers and sampling are essential.


P. amaryllifolius is propagated by suckers or by stem cuttings. Suckers removed from the leaf axils can be planted straight away or rooted first in a sandy medium. Stem cuttings should be inserted obliquely in the planting medium (Setyowati & Siemonsma,1999).

Scientific name

Pandanus amaryllifolius (Roxb.) Hort. Bengal (1814) 71; F1. Ind. ed. 2, 3 (1832) 743.

Common names

1. India- Hindi: Rampe; Marathi: Ambemohor pat; Tamil: Ramba

2. Malaysia – Pandan wangi

3. Thailand – Toei hom

4. Sri Lanka, Java and derive- Pandan rampeh or rampai

5. Acheh and Sumatra – Seuke bangu, Seuke musang

6. Moluccas Islands (Ternate)- Pondak

7. Philippines (Luzon) – Pandan mabongo

Note: 1. (Wakte et al., 2012), 2 & 3 (Stone, 2001), 4-7 (Stone, 1978).


Pandanus odoratissimus Blume, Catalogus, (1823) 111, non L.f. (1782)

P. amaryllidifolius Voigt, Syll. Ratisb. vol. 2, (1828) 52

P. amarylloides Parment. ex Desf., Cat. pl. hort. Par. ed. vol. 3, (1829) 9

P. latifolius vel odoratus Rumph. Herb. Amb. 4 (1844) 146

P. latifolius Hassk. in Flora vol. 25, (1842) 2. Beibl., 13

P. latifolius Hassk. and var. minor Hassk. Cat. Hort. Bog. (1844) 61

non: P. latifolius Perrot, Mem. Soc. Linn. Paris 3 (1825) 134, which is P. dubius Spreng;

non: P. latifolius Voigt, Flora (1828), Syll. Ratisb. 2 (1828) 52, sp. ingot;

non: P. latifolius Hort. ex Lodd in C. Koch, Wochenschr. (1858) 131, which is P. perville- anus Kurz.

P. moschatus hort. ex H. Wendl., Ind. Palm., (1854) 45, non Miq. (1855)

P. laevis Ridl. in Agric. Bull. Straits and F. M. S. vol. 1, (1902) 336, non Kunth (1841)

P. hasskarlii Merr., Interpr. Herb. amb., (1917) 80

P. odorus Ridl., Fl. Mal. Penins. vol. 5, (1925) 81

Note: (Stone, 1978; Stone, 2001; Wakte et al., 2012)


Widely used in South-East Asian culinary delights as food flavour and colouring, particularly scenting rice in India and Sri Lanka. Serves in several traditional medicinal practices across its distribution. (Purseglove,1972; Stone, 1978 and Stone, 2001).


Pandanus amaryllifolius has a number of local medicinal uses. In India, after soaking the leaves in coconut oil, the oil is employed as an embrocation for rheumatic troubles. Infusions of the leaves are used internally and externally as a sedative against restlessness. In Thailand it is a traditional medicine to treat diabetes (Wakte et al., 2009)

Along with the aromatic properties, the leaves have compounds with antiviral and antioxidant properties. This species is also used in some traditional medicine such as remedy for toothache and for decreasing glucose concentration or hypoglycemic effect, the roots extract are used to cure thyroid problems. It is also used for preparing lotion along with ash and vinegar to treat measles, as purgative, in the treatment of leprosy, sore throat and as diuretic in Philippines. In addition, the Taiwanese always use this plant to treat fever. Tender shoots are directly eaten in the case of severe jaundice (Wakte et al., 2012).


Widely use in South-East Asian culinary delights as food flavor and green colouring (chlorophyll). Creativity in using P. amaryllifolius leaves to enhance cuisine attractiveness are notably in Strait Chinese dessert. Famous daily meal such as ‘‘Nasi lemak’’ in Malaysia and ‘‘Nasi kuning’’ in Indonesia are prepared by cooking the rice with coconut milk and P. amaryllifolius leaves (Wakte et al, 2012). Leaves of P. amaryllifolius are widely used to flavour ordinary rice to resemblance expensive aromatic rice cultivars such as Basmati,-India, Jasmine- Thailand and Kaorimai- Japan (Wakte et al., 2009). Fried chicken wrapped in P. amaryllifolius leaves is a delicacy. Juice is pressed from the leaves for flavouring and colouring cakes (Setyowati & Siemonsma,1999). There is growing interest in food industry for natural colorant and flavour elicited characteristic of authentic food (Wakte et al., 2009) The dried leaves powder have been widely used in ice cream, yogurt, soup, cake, tea and even Malaysian traditional coconut jam called “Kaya” spread available in local grocery store (Wakte et al., 2012). Wide usage in food industry result in Geneva-based International Standards Organization (ISO) included P. amaryllifolius in the lists of herbs and spices. P. amaryllifolius essence has potential to become substitute to vanilla essence (Wakte et al., 2012).

Decoration and art

Freshly chopped leaves are mixed with the petals of various flowers to make potpourris which is arranged during traditional ceremonies in Malaysia (Setyowati & Siemonsma,1999). Leaves can be woven into small baskets, however due to its thinner leaves (loss moisture content quick and become brittle) its prospect in basketry or woven industry might not be aspiring as P. tectorius. But for leisure art and craft interest it would be a good resources. Check on link below for art of folding P. amaryllifolius into rose shape. P. amaryllifolius has ornamental values in the tropics. According to Wakte et al. (2012) P. amaryllifolius has secondary benefit of adding visual and olfactory pleasure to humans.

Cultural importance

Traditionally, leaves are used as medicinal bath for women after childbirth in Malaysia and also for hair wash by using mixture of “Henna” (Lawsonia inermis L.), Lime (Citrus hystrix DC.), coconut milk, milk and P. amaryllifolius (Wakte et al., 2009)

Other uses

Powdered P. amaryllifolius leaves may be used against Callosobruchus chinensis (an insect pest) infestation of mung-bean seeds (Setyowati & Siemonsma,1999). In addition, P. amaryllifolius is used as a environmentally friendly pest management tool to keep out cockroach (Wakte et al, 2012).


Origin of P. amaryllifolius is uncertain. However, occurrence of P. amaryllifolius is widely traceable in cultivated ground and household gardens across Malesia, Sri Lanka, India and Hawaii (Stone, 1978 and Wakte et al., 2009).

P. amaryllifolius occurrence.
Map courtesy of © Bruce John Design Inc.

P. amaryllifolius is an interesting plant with its origin history myths and variety of application values.


APG III (2009). An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 161 (2): 105–121.

Buerki, S., Callmander, M.J., Devey, D.S., Chappell, L., Gallaher, T., Munzinger, J., Haevermans and Forest, F. (2012) Straightening out the screw-pines: A first step in understanding relationships within Pandanaceae. Taxon 61 (5): 1010-1020.

Katzer, G. (2012) Pandanus (Pandanus amaryllifolius Roxb.) in Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages (accessed 3rd January 2013, page last updated 14 Feb 2012)

Purseglove, J.W. (1972) Tropical Crops: Monocotyledons. Harlow, Longman. 2 vols.

Rahayu, S. E., Kartawinata, K., Chikmawati, T. and Hartana, A. (2012) Leaf anatomy of Pandanus species (Pandanaceae) from Java. Reinwardtia. 13(3): 305−313.

Routray, W. and Rayaguru, K. (2010): Chemical Constituents and Post- Harvest Prospects of Pandanus amaryllifolius Leaves: A Review, Food Reviews International. 26 (3): 230-245

Setyowati, F.M. and Siemonsma, J.S. (1999) Pandanus amaryllifolius Roxb. Internet Record from Proseabase. de Guzman, C.C. and Siemonsma, J.S. (Editors).
PROSEA (Plant Resources of South-East Asia) Foundation, Bogor, Indonesia.

Stevens, P. F. (2001). Pandanales. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 12, July 2012. (Accessed 1st December 2012)

Stone, B.C. (1978) Studies in Malesian Pandanaceae XVII on the Taxonomy of ‘Pandan Wangi’: A Pandanus Cultivar with Scented Leaves. Economic Botany. 32 (3): 285-293.

Stone, B.C. (1983) A Guide to Collecting Pandanaceae (Pandanus, Freycinetia, and Sararanga). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 70 (1): 137-145.

Stone, B.C. (2001). Pandanaceae. In: Mansfeld’s encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops (Hanelt, Peter. Büttner, R. Mansfeld, Rudolf). Berlin ; London : Springer. 5: 2816-2819.

Teng L.C., T. C. Shen and S. H. Goh. (1979) The Flavoring Compound of the Leaves of Pandanus amaryllifolius. Economic Botany. 33 (1): 72-74.

Wakte, K.V, Zanan R.L, Saini,A. Jawali, N, Thengane,R.J. and Nadaf, A.B. (2012) Genetic diversity assessment in Pandanus amaryllifolius Roxb. populations of India. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 59 (7): 1583-1595.

Wakte, K.V., Nadaf, A.B., Thengane,R.J. and Jawali, N. (2009) Pandanus amaryllifolius Roxb. cultivated as a spice in coastal regions of India. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 56: 735–740.


© Bruce John Design Inc. (Royalty Free World Map Projections Printable, Blank Maps).

© Chang, C.L. (Personal collection). Used with permission. Photograph: Singapore.

© Gernot Katzer (Gernot Katzer’s Spice Page). Used with permission. Photograph: Sri Lanka.

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4 Responses to Pandanus amaryllifolius – The only Pandanus with fragrant leaves

  1. Fiona Blair, Director of Corporate Relations and Events at the University was visitng the greenhouse today. She asked if we had the long leaved thing used in Malaysian cookery – it turned out to be Pandanus amaryllifolius!

  2. mia says:


  3. chenda says:

    I had steam as tea for drink every day. it’s fantastic!!

  4. Pingback: I Heart Tea – Our Hero

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