Neotropical Marantaceae

Silvana Vieira

Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. 


Rhizomatous herbs, small to moderately sized, sometimes lianescent and high-climbing or tall tree-like plants; roots often with tubers, rhizome axis or scales often starch-storing. Leaves distichous, differentiated into sheath, petiole proper (often missing), a distal thickening the so-called pulvinus, and blade; blades with a prominent midrib and parallel, closely set, sigmoid lateral veins fused near blade margin, interconnected by numerous regularly arranged secondary veinlets. Inflorescence simple or a complex synflorescence; inflorescence unit a spiciform thyrse with aggregates of one- or two-flowered cymules in axils of the bracts; cymules with a dorsal two- or three-keeled prophyll at base, often also with a scale-like interphyll opposite to the prophyll, and dorsal (rarely also lateral) bracteoles. Flowers trimerous, asymmetric; two flowers of a cymule being mirror images; sepals free; petals 3, basally connate; corolla, androecium and style fused at base to form a tube continued as a staminal tube above level of petal separation; outer staminal whorl of 1 or 2 staminodes, or (rarely) missing, staminodes usually petaloid and showy; inner staminal whorl of 3 members, one fertile monothecic stamen (often with a lateral petaloid appendage) and two staminodes, one hood-shaped (cucullate staminode) and other usually firm and fresh with marked callosities (callose staminode); style with a flattened portion on dorsal side just below apex, stigma confined to an apical cavity; ovary inferior, 3-6-locular, two often empty and compressed; ovules basal, one per locule; septa with septal nectaries.  Fruit usually capsular; seeds rather large, arillate, without endosperm but with copious starchy perisperm; embryo horseshoe-shaped; centre of seed with a canal formed by disintegration of central core of tissue (perisperm canal).

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Calathea G. Mey.: Mexico, Mesoamerica, Caribbean, and tropical South America.
  • Ctenanthe Eichler: Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela.
  • Hylaeanthe A.M.E. Jonker & Jonker: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Guianas, Colombia, Argentina, N and NE Brazil.
  • Ischnosiphon Körn.: Caribbean, Central and South America.
  • Koernickanthe L. Andersson: Central Brazil.
  • Maranta L.: Central and tropical South America.
  • Monophyllanthe K. Schum.: French Guiana, Colombia, and N Brazil.
  • Monotagma K. Schum.: Central and tropical South America
  • Myrosma L. f.: Caribbean and tropical South America.
  • Pleiostachya K. Schum.: Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Ecuador.
  • Sanblasia L. Andersson: Panama.
  • Saranthe (Regel & Körn.) Eichler: SE Brazil.
  • Stromanthe Sond.: Mexico, Caribbean, Central and tropical South America.
  • Thalia L.: Caribbean, Mexico, Central and tropical South America.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Two members of inner staminal whorl highly modified, one of them hooded (the cucullate staminode) and the other one firm and fleshy with marked callosities (the callosus staminode).
  • A distal thickening of the petiole, the so-called pulvinus.

Other important characters

  • Sigmoid lateral veins which fuse near the blade margin and are interconnected by numerous regularly arranged secondary veinlets.

Key differences from similar families

  • In Marantaceae (1) the petaloid members of inner staminal whorl have shapes that are adapted to specific functions in pollination, (2) the style is hook-shaped and bears the stigma laterally, and (3) each locule bears a single basal ovule; while in Cannaceae (1) the petaloid members of inner staminal whorl have no specialized shapes, (2) the style is petaloid and bears the stigma terminally, (3) the placentae are axial and multiovulate.

Number of genera

31 genera worldwide, 14 represented in the Neotropics:

  • Calathea
  • Ctenanthe
  • Hylaeanthe
  • Ischnosiphon
  • Koernickanthe
  • Maranta
  • Monophyllanthe
  • Monotagma
  • Myrosma
  • Pleiostachya
  • Sanblasia
  • Saranthe
  • Stromanthe
  • Thalia

Useful tips for generic identification

  • Calathea G. Mey.: compact and strobiliform inflorescences; floral tube long and narrow; outer staminode solitary (rarely missing); ovary with three fertile locules.
  • Ctenanthe Eichler: antitropic leaves; corolla tube very short and wide; bracts long-persistent; two outer staminodes slightly unequal; callose staminode distally petaloid and showy.
  • Hylaeanthe A.M.E. Jonker & Jonker: hygrophytic habit; fenestrate leaf sheaths; marcescent bracts; floral tube very long and narrow; two outer staminodes markedly unequal (rarely only one).
  • Ischnosiphon Körn.: slender spiciform inflorescences; sclerotic bracts; floral tube very long and narrow; outer staminode solitary.
  • Koernickanthe L. Andersson: inflorescences compact, spiciform with bright orange bracts, flowers bright yellow, floral tube long and narrow, two outer staminodes subequal, markedly unequal to solitary.
  • Maranta L.: rhizomes usually with some form of specialization, root tubers usually present; inflorescence usually lax, simple or more complex; floral tube moderately long and narrow (rarely short); two outer staminodes subequal to unequal; sepals persistent on the fruit.
  • Monophyllanthe K. Schum.: rhizomes with bulb-like structures made up of thick starch-storing cataphylls; inflorescence simple, sepals linear, floral tube very long and narrow, outer staminode solitary (rarely two markedly unequal).
  • Monotagma K. Schum.: leaf blades firm and chartaceous when dry; inflorescence a richly-branched synflorescence, often much congested; bracts tough and coriaceous, often woody in texture when dry, conduplicate; cymules one-flowered; flower tube very long and narrow; outer staminode solitary.
  • Myrosma L. f.: small plants; rhizomes with bulb-like structures at the branch tips; inflorescences pronouncedly mono-symmetrical, with much overlapping bracts; bracts persistent, distinctly fibrous, papiraceous when dry, white in live plants, straw-coloured when dry; flower tube short and wide; two outer staminodes, equal and showy; fertile stamen with a large, petaloid and showy appendage.
  • Pleiostachya K. Schum.: laterally flattened inflorescences with conduplicate and much overlapping bracts; bracts markedly fibrous and persistent;  floral tube very long and narrow; outer staminode solitary; callose staminode entirely firm and fleshy.
  • Sanblasia L. Andersson: spiciform inflorescences; bracts overlapping and conduplicate; channelled and keeled bracteoles; floral tubes very long and narrow; with three fertile locules.
  • Saranthe (Regel & Körn.) Eichler: hygrophytic habit; bracts deciduous (rarely long-persistent), herbaceous to membranaceous, thin-papiraceous when dry; floral tube short and wide; two outer staminodes, equal; fertile stamen with a petaloid, narrowly oblong appendage equalling or somewhat exceeding the anther.
  • Stromanthe Sond.: richly-branched aerial shoot system; leaves antitropic; flower tube very short and wide to inconspicuous; sepals very large and fibrous; outer staminodes completely absent or two rudimentary to petaloid and showy.
  • Thalia L.: inflorescence a well-branched synflorescence with deciduous bracts; sepals very short; floral tube indistinct; outer staminode solitary; cucullate staminode with two appendages; style with a very long ventral projection of the stigmatic orifice.

Notable genera and distinguishing features


  • Compact and strobiliform inflorescences.
  • Floral tube long and narrow.
  • Outer staminode solitary (rarely missing).
  • Ovary with three fertile locules.


  • Rhizomes usually with some form of specialization.
  • Root tubers usually present.
  • Inflorescence usually lax, simple or more complex.
  • Floral tube moderately long and narrow (rarely short).
  • Two outer staminodes subequal to unequal.
  • Sepals persistent on the fruit.


  • Native

General notes

  • There is a growing demand for species of Calathea, Ctenanthe, Maranta, and Stromanthe as ornamentals.  These plants are easy to grow in tropical and subtropical climates where they are cultivated as landscape plants and as potted plants in temperate climates.
  • This family includes a number of edible species such as Calathea barbata Petersen and Calathea allouia Lindl., from which the tubercules are cooked and eaten by indigenous people in central Brazil and northern South America, respectively. 
  • However, only a single species, Maranta arundinacea L. (arrowroot) is economically important.
  • Fibre plants are abundant in the family. 
  • The inflorescence peduncles of species of Ischnosiphon are used for making baskets, mats, strings for musical instruments and ornaments in the Amazonian region and the Guianas.
  • Species with larger leaf blades are used for wrapping foods, to cover cargo and as bottle stoppers.

Important literature

Andersson, L. 1977. The genus Ischnosiphon (Marantaceae). Opera Botanica 43: 1-113.

Andersson, L. 1981a. Revision of the Thalia geniculata complex (Marantaceae). Nordic Journal of Botany 1: 48-56.

Andersson, L. 1981b. The neotropical genera of Marantaceae: circumscription and relationships. Nordic Journal  of Botany 1: 218-245.

Andersson, L. 1986. Revision of Maranta Subgen. Maranta (Marantaceae). Nordic Journal of Botany 6: 729-756.

Andersson, L. 1998. Marantaceae. In: Kubitzki, K. (ed.), the Families and Genera of Vascular Plants: 4. Pp. 278-293. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York.

Andersson, L. & Chase, M.W. 2001. Phylogeny and classification of Marantaceae. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 135: 275-287.

Kennedy, H., Andersson, L. & Hagberg, M. 1988. Marantaceae. In: Harling, G., Andersson L. (eds.), Flora of Ecuador 32: 14-191.

Loesener, T. 1930. Marantaceae. In: Engler, A. (ed.), Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien, ed. 2, 15a. Pp. 564-693. Leipzig, Engelmann.

Petersen, O.G. 1889. Marantaceae. In: Engler, A., Prantl, K. (eds), Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien vol. 2. Pp. 31-43. Leipzig, Engelmann.

Prince, L. M. & Kress, W.J.  2006. Phylogenetic relationships and classification in Marantaceae: insights from plastid DNA sequence data. Taxon 55(2): 281-296.

Schumann, K. 1902. Marantaceae. Pp. 1-184 in: Engler, A. (ed.), Das Pflanzenreich 4(48). Leipzig.

How to cite

Vieira, S. (2009). Neotropical Marantaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.