Leaves of Syrrhopodon mahensis showing details of the leaf margin.
Shoots of Syrrhopodon mahensis form tufts and mats, which are golden to pale-green and often tinged with traces of a vivid red.
Generally, the wiry leaves are lance-like, narrowing slightly but abruptly from a short, oblong, stem-clasping basal region. They have a highly opaque, matt texture, as much of their surface is roughened by very fine microscopic lump-like projections (papillae).
Towards the apex of the transparent basal region the margin of the leaf is flat and fringed by a row of short spines. In contrast, the leaf margin above the basal region is formed by a thickened rib, which is adorned with papillae and sporadic groups of sharp teeth.
The general features of Syrrhopodon mahensis are similar to those in the common pantropical species Syrrhopodon gardneri and its East African relative, Syrrhopodon asper. However, none of these related species possess leaves with the fine superficial ornamentation displayed in S. mahensis.
Under the influence of various environmental conditions, the leaves in different populations of this species can vary widely in their proportions. Several of these differing growth forms are dubiously recognised as named varieties.