Smilax zeylanica (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Smilax zeylanica L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 1029 (1753).
Family: Smilacaceae


  • Smilax australis R. Br. sensu Heyne and Burkill.

Vernacular names

  • Indonesia: kayu cina hutan (Moluccas), saihe maruani (Seram), asaihe tuni (Ambon).


Sri Lanka, India, Burma (Myanmar), northern Thailand and Java, possibly also Sulawesi, the Moluccas and New Guinea.


Boiled young roots are edible, possibly only used in times of famine. The stems are very tough and used for baskets and wickerwork. Young stem tips are used as a vegetable. Medicinally, the roots are used as a medicinal plant in India, and as an adulterant of the famous roots of Smilax china L. (chinaroot, gadung cina) in the Moluccas, active against venereal diseases and skin problems.


  • Robust woody climber, up to 6 m long, dioecious, extremely variable.
  • Branches terete to angular, zigzag to straight, sparingly prickly to unarmed.
  • Leaves alternate, ovate, oblong, or lanceolate or orbicular, 5-24 cm × 1-13 cm, thinly to thickly coriaceous, with 3-5 main veins; petiole up to 3 cm long, wings of petiolar sheaths rather weakly developed, tendrils up to 20 cm long.
  • Inflorescences of both sexes consisting of 1-5 umbels; common axis up to 5 cm long, peduncle up to 3.5 cm long, rays 1.5-2 cm long; umbels 10-40-flowered; staminate perianth 3-5.5 mm long, pistillate one 3-4.5 mm.
  • Fruit a globose berry, 6-9 mm in diameter, dirty yellow to shiny black.
  • Seeds 2-3 per berry, planoconvex or globose, brown.

The S. zeylanica complex has not yet been studied well; sometimes it is divided into 3 species, based on leaf differences, sometimes into different subspecies, on the basis of number and size of umbels, form and size of leaves and form of branches.

Two subspecies are currently distinguished: subsp. hemsleyana (Craib) T. Koyama (synonym: S. hemsleyana Craib) and subsp. zeylanica. The former differs from the latter in its solitary umbels and comparatively broader leaves, and is only known from eastern India and northern Thailand. S. zeylanica occurs in primary and secondary forest, teak forest, brushwood and bamboo thickets, in Java up to 1600 m altitude. S. celebica Blume, a decoction of whose leaves has been reported to be used in the Moluccas as tonic after childbirth, might be merely a form of S. zeylanica differing only in the leaves.

S. australis R. Br. is endemic to Australia. Most Smilax species have a considerable medicinal value.

Selected sources

97, 140, 580, 779, 780, 1491. medicinals

3, 32, 57, 79, 80, 86, 94. carbohydrates


  • Stephen P. Teo
  • L.E. Groen, J.S. Siemonsma & P.C.M. Jansen