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Perennial, usually coarse herbs. Leaves 3-ranked, subcoriaceous to thickly coriaceous, linear, broadly linear, or lorate, slightly narrowed towards the conduplicate base, or rather abruptly narrowed into a petiole, the top (in almost all Mal. spp.) very gradually to abruptly narrowed into a filiform, triquetrous, scabrous tail; Inflorescence either consisting of a single spikelet or capitate (i.e. consisting of few to numerous sessile spikelets), in the latter case surrounded by some glume-like or foliaceous involucral bracts. Flowers hermaphrodite, linear, strongly dorsiventrally compressed.


Africa present, Asia-Tropical: Assam (Assam present); Borneo present; Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia present); Maluku (Maluku present); Sulawesi (Sulawesi present); Sumatera (Sumatera present); Thailand (Thailand present), Carolines present, Ceylon present, E. Java absent, Lesser Sunda Is absent, Madagascar absent, N. Queensland present present, Pacific: Samoa (Samoa present), Solomons present, Sylhet present, W. Java present, W. Pacific present, tropical regions of South America present
About 50 spp. in the tropical regions of South America and Africa (not in Madagascar!), and from Ceylon, Assam, Sylhet, Thailand and Indo-China to the W. Pacific and N. Queensland, in Malesia 25 spp. The centre of development in Malesia is Borneo, from where 19 spp. are known (10 endemic). In the Malay Peninsula 11 spp. (2 endemic), in Sumatra 7 spp., in W. Java only 3 spp. .
The genus is not represented in E. Java and the Lesser Sunda Is. which have largely a seasonal climate, and but poorly in Celebes and the Moluccas. Mapania macrocephala, M. moseleyi, and M. baccifera are restricted to the eastern part of the Archipelago, M. macrocephala extending to N. Queensland, Samoa, the Solomons, and the Carolines. Only M. palustris and M. cuspidata are widely distributed.


Subdivision of the genus. The type species of Mapania is the South American M. sylvatica . In sect. Mapania the leaves are as a rule all reduced to bladeless sheaths, and the inflorescence is sustained by an involucre of 3 large, oblong bracts. This section is not represented in Malesia.
The Malesian species are generally classified into 3 sections, but I greatly doubt whether these sections can be upheld, the distinction between them not being sharp, especially that between sect. Pandanophyllum and sect. Macrolepironia. Some botanists have gone so far as to raise some sections to subgeneric or even generic rank, but in my opinion there is too much reticulate affinity to warrant that procedure. There are certainly groups of allied species in Malesia, but they cannot be rigidly classified into infrageneric taxa. Therefore I have decided to refrain from recognizing sections and I have arranged the species according to their supposed affinity.
Moreover, there is a regrettable confusion as to the nomenclature. It has been overlooked that as early as 1870 MIQUEL used Pandanophyllum as a sectional name (in Lepironia) to cover the species with a capitate inflorescence. The type of this section is Pandanophyllum palustre HASSK. ex STEUD. Unfortunately CLARKE applied the name Pandanophyllum to the section with normally a single spikelet to the inflorescence, for which section MIQUEL coined the name Macrolepironia. This name must be reinstated.

To those who want to recognize sections, the names to be used are as follows:
  • Sect. 1. Cephaloscirpus (KURZ) B. & H. Gen. P1. 3 (1883) 1056. — Cephaloscirpus KURZ, J. As. Soc. Beng. 38, ii (1869) 83 (T: Hypaelyptum macrocephalum GAUDICH.). — Mapania subg. Cephaloscirpus CLARKE, Kew Bull. add. ser. 8 (1908) 131; UITTIEN, Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. 32 (1935) 185.
    Flowering stems central. Involucral bracts foliaceous. Inflorescence capitate.
    Embraces the E. Malesian M. macrocephala and M. moseleyi. UITTIEN referred also M. latifolia to this section, but this species shows strong relations to M. cuspidata and M. holttumii.
  • Sect. 2. Pandanophyllum (HASSK.) B. & H. Gen. P1. 3 (1883) 1056. — Pandanophyllum HASSK. Tijd. Nat. Gesch. Phys. 10 (1843) 118, p.p. (T: Pandanophyllum palustre HASSK. ex STEUD.). — Lepironia sect. Pandanophyllum MIQ. Illustr. (1870) 60. — Mapania sect. Halostemma CLARKE, Fl. Br. Ind. 6 (1894) 681; UITTIEN, Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. 33 (1936) 284 (T: Mapania silhetensis CLARKE). — Mapania subg. Halostemma CLARKE, Kew Bull. add. ser. 8 (1908) 130; UITTIEN, Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. 32 (1935) 185.
    Flowering stems lateral. Involucral bracts glume-like. Inflorescence always capitate.
  • Sect. 3. Macrolepironia (MIQ.) KERN, Blumea 12 (1963) 25. — Lepironia sect. Macrolepironia MiQ. Illustr. (1870) 60 (Lectotype: Lepironia enodis MIQ.). — Mapania sect. Pandanophyllum (non B. & H.) CLARKE, Fl. Br. Ind. 6 (1894) 682; UITTIEN, Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. 33 (1936) 145. — Mapania subg. Pandanophyllum CLARKE, Kew Bull. add. ser. 8 (1908) 130; UITTIEN, Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. 32 (1935) 185. — Mapania subg. Pandanoscirpus UITTIEN, Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. 33 (1936) 278 (T: Mapania petiolata CLARKE).
    Flowering stems lateral. Inflorescence normally consisting of a single spikelet.
    UITTIEN referred M. richardsii and M. longiflora to this section. However, their inflorescence is composed of several spikelets, exactly as in M. debilis, which he placed in the preceding section. In future the three might be treated as a separate section.
    In M. cuspidata, M. squamata, M. spadicea, and M. graminea there are not rarely some secondary spikelets branching from the axils of the lower (‘empty’) glumes; usually there is no distinct involucre, but sometimes the lower glumes assume the aspect of involucral bracts.


Specific delimitation has proved to be difficult, this in contrast with the African species in which the Structure of the fruit offers good characters. The flowers in many Malesian species vary considerably in size (partly due to age). Therefore differential characters have largely been based on vegetative characters and are less tangible than desirable.
Herbarium material is often inadequate for critical study. Mapanias should be collected as whole plants, if possible both in flower and fruit.


UITTIEN 1936 – In: Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. p 145
AUBLET 1908 – In: Kew Bull. p 130
STEUD. 1855 – In: Syn. p 134
AUBLET 1936 – In: Rec. Trav. Bot. Néerl. p 277
BOECK. 1871 – In: Linnaea. p 136
Clarke 1894 – In: Fl. Br. Ind. p 680