Pandanus odoratissimus (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Pandanus odoratissimus L.f.

Protologue: Suppl. pl.: 424 (1782).
Family: Pandanaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 60


  • Pandanus fascicularis Lam. (1785),
  • Pandanus sabotan Blanco (1837),
  • Pandanus tectorius auct. non Parkinson.

Vernacular names

  • Pandan, pandanus, screw pine (En).
  • Pandano (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Pandanus odoratissimus is widely distributed on the Indo-Malaysian coasts from India and Sri Lanka throughout South-East Asia to Taiwan, the Ryukyu Islands and Micronesia. In has been introduced into tropical Africa where it is occasionally cultivated.


On Pemba (Tanzania) Pandanus odoratissimus is cultivated to obtain thatching and weaving material, and for its fragrant male inflorescence. In Madagascar as well, the leaves are used for thatching and weaving. In Asia the leaves of Pandanus odoratissimus are made into hats, mats, sacks, cordage, baskets, umbrellas and other articles, and they also serve for thatching. On Guam they have been used to make sails. Beaten prop roots are used as brushes for painting and whitewashing, and the roots serve for binding. The leaves are said to be good paper-making material. On the Andaman and Nicobar Islands the leaves are used for wrapping cigars and the inflorescences as a substitute for tobacco.

In India (mainly Orissa) and Sri Lanka the flavourings and perfumes ‘kewda (keora) attar’, ‘kewda water’ and ‘kewda oil’ (‘rooh kewda’) are prepared from the fragrant male inflorescence. The most important use of kewda attar is in tobacco preparations, but it also serves to flavour betel-quid, and to scent clothes, bouquets, lotions, cosmetics, soaps, hair oils and incense sticks. Kewda attar and kewda water are both used for flavouring food, sweets, syrups and soft drinks. Kewda oil is not produced in large quantities. In Indonesia the male inflorescence is used to scent clothes, in the preparation of fragrant oils and in ceremonies.

The seeds are edible and the fruit pulp is also consumed after the calcium oxalate has been removed by cooking. Pandanus odoratissimus is used in living fences, coastal windbreaks, and it is planted for soil stabilization and as an ornamental.

In Asia the roots are used for the treatment of skin diseases, ulcers, dyspepsia, diabetes, fever and leprosy, and they are also considered antipyretic, expectorant and diuretic. The leaves are used as a cardiotonic and purgative, and are said to be useful against leprosy, smallpox, scabies and heart and brain diseases. The male inflorescence is considered cardiotonic. Kewda oil and attar are considered stimulant and antispasmodic, and are used for the treatment of headache and rheumatism.

Production and international trade

On a monetary basis, the most important Pandanus products are kewda attar and kewda water. The demand has increased strongly since the early 1980s, due to the popularity of scented tobacco products. It is estimated that about 35 million inflorescences (about 3500 t), obtained from about 5000 ha of wild Pandanus odoratissimus in Orissa (India), are processed annually to produce kewda attar and kewda water. Kewda oil is not produced on a commercial scale.


The suitability of Pandanus leaves for weaving is due to their anatomy: the veins run parallel along the length of the leaves, whereas the transverse, connecting veins are relatively weak. The strips get their strength mainly from the upper epidermis and the hypodermis below it.

The characteristic aroma of kewda oil is due to 2-phenylethyl methyl ether, the main constituent (66–85%). Another major constituent is terpinen-4-ol (9–21%). The oil is considered to have stimulant and antispasmodic properties.

Root extracts have shown in-vitro antioxidant activity, with methanolic extracts showing higher activity than aqueous extracts. The antioxidant activity is related to the presence of phenolics and flavonoids. The leaf juice was found to inhibit the formation of skin, liver and colon tumours in tests with mice. A methanolic leaf extract has shown in-vivo anti-inflammatory activity in rats. Petroleum ether, chloroform and hydroalcoholic leaf extracts have shown antimicrobial activity against the Gram-positive bacteria Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus, but not against the Gram-negative bacteria Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the yeast Candida albicans. In another study a methanolic leaf extract was active against Escherichia coli and Vibrio cholerae.


Dioecious, coarsely branched, small- to medium-sized tree 12–14 m tall with aerial roots near the base and an open crown; trunk erect or more or less decumbent, up to 20 cm in diameter, grey. Leaves arranged spirally in 3 series, simple, without petiole but with broad clasping base, linear, up to 3 m × 9 cm, apex gradually narrowed to an elongated flagella, margins and dorsal midvein armed with usually forwardly directed, very sharp prickles 5–10 mm long, youngest leaves erect, older ones drooping from the midpoint, glaucous, parallel veins 40–160 but not prominent. Inflorescence unisexual; male inflorescence 30–60 cm long, usually with 5–11 spikes 5–10 cm long; bracts less than 30 cm long; female inflorescence usually with one single head on peduncle 10–30 cm long, bracts subfleshy, navicular with prickly midvein and margins; each head consisting of a mass of 4–10-celled carpels (carpellate phalange). Flowers unisexual, without perianth; male flower a cluster of stamens (staminate phalange), 10–15 mm long, with 19–26 stamens, filaments 0.5–2 mm long, anthers 2–3.5 mm long; carpellate phalange with style absent, stigmas distinct on the apex of each carpel. Fruit an angular drupe up to 5 cm long, arranged in clusters in a globose to ellipsoid, drooping, orange-red syncarp 15–20(–30) cm × 12–18(–20) cm; drupe clusters free from each other but tightly crowded, pentagonal or hexagonal, 3–8 cm × 2–5 cm, composed of 4–10 concentrically arranged, fused carpels. Seeds fusiform to obovoid, 10–12 mm long, retained within the red-brown endocarp, endosperm soft and white.

Other botanical information

Pandanus includes about 600 species and is found from West Africa eastward to Madagascar, the Indian Ocean islands, India and most of warmer South-East Asia and Pacific islands. From Madagascar c. 80 Pandanus species have been reported, and from mainland Africa some 25 species. Pandanus odoratissimus belongs to the section Pandanus.

Pandanus odoratissimus is closely related to Pandanus tectorius Parkinson and the two species may be regarded as West Malesian and Melanesian-Pacific-Australasian vicariants, respectively. According to some taxonomists Pandanus odoratissimus is included in Pandanus tectorius, but here the view of B.C. Stone is followed that they are separate species. The two species probably hybridize where they meet. Pandanus odoratissimus is fairly variable and many varieties and forms have been distinguished. It is notable for its often very large leaf spines, which are generally white or very pale, whereas the leaf spines of Pandanus tectorius tend to be fairly small and green. There seems to be, however, a mutant spineless form of Pandanus odoratissimus which is very difficult to distinguish from the spineless Pandanus tectorius var. laevis Warb.

Pandanus kirkii Rendle (Swahili name: mkadi), a tree up to 15 m tall with stilt roots up to 2 m high, usually occurring on sandy beaches and coral just above the high-water mark in Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania is closely related to Pandanus odoratissimus and Pandanus tectorius. Pandanus kirkii can be distinguished from Pandanus odoratissimus by its much shorter leaf spines, which are rarely longer than 2.5 mm. Its leaves are used for making baskets, mats, bags and hats. Pandanus kirkii is included in the IUCN Red list of threatened species, but it is classified in the ‘least concern’ category. Pandanus rabaiensis Rendle (Swahili name: msanaka) is a tree up to 20 m tall distributed in Kenya and Tanzania. It is used for making mats, baskets and ornaments, and for soil conservation. It is classified as ‘near threatened’ in the IUCN Red list of threatened species because of its restricted distribution and the decline in extent and quality of its habitat.

In Madagascar various endemic Pandanus species are used as fibre plants. The leaves of Pandanus acanthostylus Martelli are used for thatching and for making mats, baskets and tents. It is planted as marker of field boundaries. The leaves of Pandanus concretus Baker are used for thatching and coarse weaving, e.g. of sacks. They can also be used to make paper. The fruit pulp is eaten. The leaves of Pandanus pygmaeus Thouars are used for weaving. It is planted in Mauritius and Réunion, and widely grown and traded as an ornamental plant in other parts of the world. The leaves of Pandanus sparganioides Baker are used for fine weaving, and articles woven with material from this species are highly valued in Madagascar.

Growth and development

In Pandanus odoratissimus planted for kewda products in India, flowering of male plants starts 3–4 years after planting of cuttings or suckers. The inflorescences mature in about 2 weeks.

In several Pandanus species, including Pandanus odoratissimus, female trees grown far from their native populations produce viable seed, which appear to be apomictic. Syncarps of Pandanus odoratissimus can be dispersed by currents because they are buoyant due to the drupes’ fibrous mesocarp and the empty space around the seeds. However, germination is reduced by immersion in sea water.


In its natural distribution area Pandanus odoratissimus occurs on sandy beaches, in littoral thickets, on the edges of brackish marshes and mangroves and inland along watercourses at low altitudes. Rainfall should be high. It can grow on a wide range of soils, but heavy, poorly drained loams are not suitable.

Propagation and planting

Pandanus is usually propagated vegetatively by sucker shoots (axillary branches detached as plantlets), stem segments or full-sized stems. Cleanly removed from the leaf axils, the sucker shoots can be planted straight away or rooted first in a sandy medium. Alternatively, stems with slightly developed prop roots are cut, the leaf crown trimmed but not cut off, and the cuttings inserted obliquely in the medium. Pandanus may also be propagated by seed, but seeds should be soaked for 24 hours before planting. Seedlings develop more rapidly from previously weathered drupes or syncarps, which suggests that removal of the exocarp and perhaps scarification of the outer endocarp may accelerate germination. Germination may take several months or even a year for some Pandanus species.

The recommended planting distance for Pandanus odoratissimus in the Philippines is 2 m × 2 m, with sucker shoots 40–45 cm tall planted out in holes 20–25 cm deep and 15–20 cm wide. However, Pandanus is seldom grown in regularly spaced stands, and domestic plantings tend to consist of a few plants intermixed with other species.


No information is available on management practices in tropical Africa. In the Philippines it is recommended that plantations of Pandanus odoratissimus be weeded every 3 months during the first year after planting and every 6 months during the second and third year, and that organic fertilizer be applied. It is also recommended that dead material be removed to prevent fire, and that old or unproductive trunks and branches be thinned or cut to promote the growth and development of axillary shoots.

Diseases and pests

In India a leaf blight caused by Alternaria alternata has been recorded. The fungus covers large spots, which turn black, and perforations may appear, leading to premature defoliation and scanty flowering. A leaf blight caused by Botryodiplodia theobromae has also been recorded in India, the symptoms being yellowing of older leaves from the tip to the middle and the occurrence of coalescing yellow patches leading to leaf shedding.


In Tangerang (West Java) harvesting of Pandanus odoratissimus usually starts when plants are 2.5–3 years old, when the leaves are 0.75–1.5 m long. When the plants are about 10 years old, leaf production and quality decrease and they are usually replaced. In Tasikmalaya (West Java), however, trees reportedly remain in use for 60 years without loss of quality. In the Philippines leaf harvesting of Pandanus odoratissimus starts at 3 years after planting. Here it is recommended that 8–10 leaves per branch per month be harvested and that good quality, middle-aged, uniformly light green leaves be selected. In India the male inflorescences of Pandanus odoratissimus are simply plucked by breaking them off using a hook attached to a stick.


No information exists on leaf or fibre yields of Pandanus odoratissimus. In India mature plants produce approximately 15–40 male inflorescences per plant per year. From 1000 inflorescences about 18 kg of kewda water is obtained, whereas about 100,000 inflorescences are needed to produce 1 kg of kewda oil, as the oil yield is only 0.03%.

Handling after harvest

For the production of weaving material from Pandanus odoratissimus a leaf is usually cut, dried slightly, and the marginal spines, where present, are removed. The leaves are then split into two by removing the midrib, and the halves are cut into strips. These strips are then made supple by pulling them over a bamboo, or by rolling or beating. Then they may be soaked in water, after which they are bleached in the sun. They may be dyed, often with simple stains such as crystal violet, resulting in colourful and multi-coloured articles.

Kewda attar is prepared from Pandanus odoratissimus by distilling the ripe inflorescences for 4–5 hours. Prior to distillation, the bracts are removed from the fresh inflorescences. About 500–1000 inflorescences, each cut into 3–4 pieces, are put in a large copper still and water is added (60 l per 1000 inflorescences). The vapour is absorbed in sandalwood oil. Several grades are prepared depending on the number of inflorescences distilled per kg sandalwood oil, normally 1000–10,000, but sometimes up to 100,000. For cheaper grades, refined liquid paraffin (‘white oil’) is sometimes used instead of sandalwood oil. It is not only cheaper, but also absorbs more kewda aroma per inflorescence than sandalwood oil. However, the aroma retention is worse. Ripe, cream-coloured inflorescences give higher perfume yields of better quality than immature ones. Kewda water is obtained by simply distilling the inflorescences in water only. Kewda oil is very soluble in water and cannot be separated from the distillate by ordinary physical means. It may be prepared by extracting the flowers with a solvent, precipitating the fatty matter with alcohol and distilling the absolute under reduced pressure.

Genetic resources

No germplasm collections of Pandanus odoratissimus are known.


In Asia Pandanus odoratissimus is an important source of weaving material and widely used for flavouring and perfumes. In tropical Africa it is much less important, being only occasionally cultivated for its fibrous leaves and fragrant inflorescences, and there is little reason to expect that it will become more important in the future. The prospects for Pandanus odoratissimus as a source of kewda products in India are promising.

Major references

  • Balfour, I.B., 1877. Pandaneae. In: Baker, J.G. (Editor). Flora of Mauritius and the Seychelles: a description of the flowering plants and ferns of those islands. L. Reeve & Co., London, United Kingdom. pp. 395–403.
  • Beentje, H.J., 1993. Pandanaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 9 pp.
  • Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
  • Bosser, J. & Guého, J., 2003. Pandanaceae. In: Bosser, J., Ferguson, I.K. & Soopramanien, C. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 190. Institut de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement, Paris, France, Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 52 pp.
  • Brink, M. & Jansen, P.C.M., 2003. Pandanus Parkinson. In: Brink, M. & Escobin, R.P. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 17. Fibre plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 197–205.
  • Kumar, D., Kumar, S., Kumar, S., Singh, J., Sharma, C. & Aneja, K.R., 2010. Antimicrobial and preliminary phytochemical screening of crude leaf extract of Pandanus odoratissimus L. Pharmacology Online 2: 600-610.
  • Londonkar, R., Kamble, A. & Reddy, V.C., 2010. Anti-inflammatory activity of Pandanus odoratissimus extract. International Journal of Pharmacology 6(3): 311–314.
  • Purseglove, J.W., 1972. Tropical crops. Monocotyledons. Volume 2. Longman, London, United Kingdom. 273 pp.
  • Sasikumar, J.M., Jinu, U. & Shamna, R., 2011. In vitro antioxidant activity and HPTLC analysis of root of Pandanus odoratissimus L. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 3(1): 64–67.
  • Stone, B.C., 1973. A synopsis of the African species of Pandanus. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 60(2): 260–272.

Other references

  • Bailey, L.H. & Bailey, E.Z., 1976. Hortus third. A concise dictionary of plants cultivated in the United States and Canada. MacMillan Publishing Co., New York, United States. 1290 pp.
  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Brown, K.A., Ingram, J.C., Flynn, D.F.B., Razafindrazaka, R. & Jeannoda, V., 2009. Protected area safeguard tree and shrub communities from degradation and invasion: a case study in eastern Madagascar. Environmental Management 44: 136–148
  • Eastern Arc Mountains & Coastal Forests CEPF Plant Assessment Project Participants, 2008. Pandanus rabaiensis. In: IUCN. 2010 IUCN Red list of threatened species. Version 2010.4. [Internet] March 2011.
  • Huxley, A. (Editor), 1992. The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. Volume 3. MacMillan Press, London, United Kingdom. 790 pp.
  • Laivao, M.O., 2008. Contribution à la systématiques du genre Pandanus (Pandanaceae) à Madagascar. Thèse de Doctorat es Sciences, Faculté des Sciences, Institut de Biologie, Laboratoire de Botanique Evolutive, Université de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Suisse. 284 pp.
  • Laivao, M.O., Callmander, M.W. & Buerki, S., 2007. Révision de Pandanus sect. Foullioya Warb. (Pandanaceae) à Madagascar. Adansonia 29 (1): 39–57.
  • Lean Teik Ng & Su Foong Yap, 2003. Pandanus Parkinson. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(3). Medicinal and poisonous plants 3. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 321–323.
  • Martin, E.A., Ratsimisetra, Laloë, F. & Carrière, S.M., 2009. Conservation value for birds of traditionally managed isolated trees in an agricultural landscape of Madagascar. Biodiversity and Conservation 18: 2719–2742.
  • Panda, K.K., Panigrahy, R.K., Das, A.B. & Panda, B.B., 2007. Analyses of chromosome number, nuclear DNA content and RAPD profile in three morphotypes of Pandanus fascicularis Lam. Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter 152: 12–22.
  • Stone, B.C., 1970. Observations on the genus Pandanus in Madagascar. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 63: 97–131.
  • Thulin, M., 1995. Pandanaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 4. Angiospermae (Hydrocharitaceae-Pandanaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 274–275.
  • Wei, L.S., Musa, N., Sengm, C.T., Wee, W. & Mohd Shazili, N.A., 2008. Antimicrobial properties of tropical plants against 12 pathogenic bacteria isolated from aquatic organisms. African Journal of Biotechnology 7(13): 2275–2278.

Sources of illustration

  • Brink, M. & Jansen, P.C.M., 2003. Pandanus Parkinson. In: Brink, M. & Escobin, R.P. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 17. Fibre plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 197–205.


  • P. Oudhia, SOPAM, 28-A, Geeta Nagar, Raipur, 492001, C.G., India

Correct citation of this article

Oudhia, P., 2011. Pandanus odoratissimus L.f. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 12 November 2020.