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Bowenia spectabilis



Botanical Name

Bowenia spectabilis Hook. ex Hook.f.

Hooker, J.D. (1863) Curtis's Botanical Magazine 89: t5398. Type: the plate, Bot. Mag. t. 5398 (1863); illustrated from a cultivated plant.


Bowenia spectabilis Hook.f. var. spectabilis, A Retail List of New Beautiful & Rare Plants offered by William Bull 4: v(1878), Type: ?.

Common name

Zamia Fern


Usually flowers and fruits as a shrubby plant up to about 2 m tall but it should be noted that only the leaves are above ground level. The true stem is below the soil surface.


Compound leaf petiole to about 1.2 m or taller Compound leaf spreading up to about 160 x 160 cm. Leaflet margins smooth. Leaflet blades about 10-18 x 2-3.5 cm, asymmetrical particularly towards the base. Upper surface of the compound leaf rhachis (both primary and secondary) +/- convex with a ridge down the middle and a groove or channel on each side. Venation longitudinal and parallel without a midrib. Leaflets about 80-280 per compound leaf.


Male and female cones pedunculate and raised slightly above ground level. Cone scales clothed in small black or dark glandular structures. Male flowers: Flowers (microsporophylls) in a cone about 4.5-7 x 2.5-3 cm. Anthers or pollen sacs (microsporangia) sessile. Female flowers: Flowers (sporophylls) in a cone about 3 x 1.5 cm, two ovules per cone scale.


Fruits produced in a cone about 8-16 x 6-10 cm. Cones raised above ground level. Each cone consists of up to 70 scales each of which can produce up to 2 seeds. Seeds about 22-30 x 17-23 mm completely enclosed in an aril (sarcotesta) which is usually white to cream but turns mauve or purple at maturity. This colour change is unlikely to be seen in the forest as the seeds are popular with rats and perhaps other animals. Embryo intricately folded and coiled in a cavity about 6 mm long.


First leaf compound with 3-5 leaflets arranged in a palmate fashion. Venation in each leaflet longitudinal and parallel. At the tenth leaf stage: leaflet blades with longitudinally parallel venation but without a midrib. Taproot thick and carrot-like (Daucus carota). Coralloid roots grow upwards and when sectioned dark coloured masses of blue-green algae can be seen.

Distribution and Ecology

Endemic to NEQ. Altitudinal range from near sea level to 700 m. Grows as an understory shrub in well developed, undisturbed lowland and upland rain forest. Probably most common on red soils derived from basalt.

Natural History

Consumption of leaf material is suspected of causing 'Zamia staggers' in cattle. Everist (1974).

Seeds often eaten by native rats before the cone is fully mature.

Commonly cultivated in the garden or as a potted plant for indoors.



Herb (herbaceous or woody, under 1 m tall)


Shrub (woody or herbaceous, 1-6 m tall)


RFK Code