Donax canniformis (G.Forst.) K.Schum. (Marantaceae)
by Ms. Nur Liyana Hazwani Shahdani & Dr. Avelinah Julius
© Avelinah Julius

Marantaceae is distributed worldwide and comprises about 630 species in 30 genera (Mabberley, 2008). However, only 55 species in 8 genera occur in Asia (Suksathan et al., 2009). Of these, only 4 genera with 10 species occur in Peninsular Malaysia, namely Donax Lour. (1 species), Phrynium Willd. (5 species), Schumannianthus Gagnep. (1 species) and Stachyphrynium K.Schum. (3 species) (POWO, 2022).

Donax is a monotypic genus with a single species, namely D. canniformis (G.Forst.) K.Schum. which is native to Taiwan, Indo-China and West Pacific region. The genus derived its name from the Latin word for ‘reed’, referring to its tall and slender stem that grows in a clump, similar to a reed’s habit (a reed is a tall grass with slender and often prominently jointed stems that grow especially in wet areas) (Ridley & Curtis, 1902). The species epithet is derived from two Latin words, i.e. 'canni' meaning cane and 'formis' meaning form, referring to the segmented stems that are similar to the cane (Ridley & Curtis, 1902). This species is common and widely distributed in Peninsular Malaysia. Often, it is found growing in damp, wet areas in secondary forests and bamboo thickets, as well as on the forest floors along rivers (Ibrahim & Amalina, 2017).

Donax canniformis is a shrub of about 1.5– 2.5 m, sometimes up to 4 m tall, with hard and upright woody, hollow stems that resemble smooth bamboo stems. The segmented stems grow to about 1 to 2 m tall before branching and producing leaves at each segment (Daud et al., 2011). The leaves of this species are big and broad, 15 to 38 cm by 8 to 21 cm, varying in shape from ovate to elliptic (Niissalo et al., 2016). The flower is white to yellowish white with a very light scent of jasmine and is about 1.7 to 1.9 cm long (Ardiyani et al., 2010; Niissalo et al., 2016). The fruits are round and smooth, and the colour changes from green to yellow when mature.

Locally, D. canniformis is known as ‘bemban’ (Ridley & Curtis, 1902). In Malay culture, the rhizomes of bemban are traditionally used to cure shingles (Ibrahim & Amalina, 2007). The trunk and bark are traditionally used to make roofs because they are robust (Razali et al., 2016). Medicinally, the leaves and root decoctions are used as a bath to cool down fever, and the juice of the stems are applied for snake bites. Additionally, poultices of leaves and stems are used for treating sore eyes (Hanum & Hamzah, 1999). The raw leaves and fruits are eaten by the orang asli of Temuan tribe in Ulu Kuang, to treat boils and abscess (Azliza et al., 2012).


  1. Ardiyani, M., Poulsen, A.D., Suksathan, P. & Borchsenius, F. (2010). Marantaceae in Sulawesi. Reinwardtia, 13 (2): pp. 213-220. .
  2. Azliza, M.A., Ong, H.C., Vikineswary, S., Norlidah, A. & Haron, N.W. (2012). Ethno-medicinal resources used by the Temuan in Ulu Kuang Village. Ethno Med., 6 (1): pp. 17–22. .
  3. Daud, J.M., Hassan, H.H.M., Hashim, R. & Taher, M. (2011). Phytochemicals screening and antioxidant activities of Malaysian Donax grandis extracts. European Journal of Scientific Research, 61 (4): pp. 572-577. .
  4. Faridah-Hanum, I. & Nurulhuda, H. (1999). The use of medicinal plant species by the Temuan tribe of Ayer Hitam forest, Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia. Pertanika J. Trop. Agric. Sci., 22 (2): pp. 85-94. .
  5. Ibrahim, M.H. & Amalina, N. (2017). Nutritional composition and antioxidant activity of leaves and rhizomes of Bemban (Donax grandis) grown under glasshouse conditions. Annual Research & Review in Biology, 17 (3): pp. 1-11. .
  6. Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: A Portable Dictionary of Plants, Their Classifications and Uses. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 1-1021.
  7. Niissalo, M.A, Khew, G.S., Webb, E.L. & Leong-Skornickova, J. (2016). Notes on Singaporean native Zingiberales II: Revision of Marantaceae, with a new generic record and notes on naturalised and commonly cultivated exotic species. Phytotaxa, 289 (3): pp. 201-224. .
  8. POWO. (2022). Plants of the World Online. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved January 02, 2022, from
  9. Razali, S.M., Yusoff, M., Ramle, S.F.M., Bhat, I.U.H., Iman, A.H.M. & Razali, M.H. (2016). The potential of Donax grandis hypodermal fiber as a reinforcement in starch-based composite. Journal of Polymer Materials, 33 (4): pp. 677-684.
  10. Ridley, H.N. & Curtis, C. (1902). Malay plant names. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 38: pp. 39–122. .
  11. Suksathan, P., Gustafsson, M.H. & Borschenius, F. (2009). Phylogeny and generic delimitation of Asian Marantaceae. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 159: pp. 381–395. .
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