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Wood Anatomy of Leguminosae

Many species of Leguminosae provide commercial timber, and all woody species have anatomical characteristics that contribute to the properties of the wood and lend a wealth of information for identification, systematics, phylogeny and wood use. At Kew we study legume wood for all these purposes.
Distemonanthus benthamianus wood, tangential longitudinal section (TLS) showing both prismatic crystals and silica bodies in the parenchyma cells. The rays and axial parenchyma strands are storied, both features found in many caesalpinioid and pa

Wood anatomy has long been recognised as a useful approach to identifying legume timbers, many of which are of commercial value; some are CITES listed. Information on wood anatomy in the form of photomicrographs, descriptions and keys can be used for both identification and to inform systematic and phylogenetic studies.

Since 1991 the wood anatomy of the major tribes and subfamilies of legumes has been documented, combining original observations with published information to provide data for identification and phylogenetic studies. So far 15 papers on legume woods have been completed, including Papilionoideae (tribes Sophoreae, Swartzieae, Dipterygeae, Millettieae, some Dalbergieae and Robinieae), Mimosoideae and Caesalpinioideae. The broad surveys of the subfamilies have highlighted groups whose wood anatomy require further investigation, such as Acacia sensu lato, Pithecellobium and Albizia (Mimosoideae) and Caesalpinia sl.

In Caesalpinioideae we have published a paper on the wood anatomy of Caesalpinia sl. (which contains c.135 species in 8 genera), and are currently working on the much larger and more challenging Acacia ss., which is almost exclusively Australian and comprises c.1,000 species ranging from arid to wet environments through temperate, subtropical and tropical regions. Several tribes of Papilionoideae require similar treatment of wood anatomy; even some tribes that are traditionally considered non-woody such as Trifolieae include taxa which produce some secondary xylem.

Availability of material largely dictates the sequence of investigation, and currently a collaboration with colleagues in Australia means that concentrating on Acacia ss. is the most active project. Madagascan Dalbergia species are also being investigated, but lack of material is hampering this project.

Two species of Mimosa and Poincianella pyramidalis are the subject of detailed work on coppicing and pollarding in the caatinga of northeast Brazil (see separate account).

Key publications 2006-2011

  • Evans, J.A., Gasson, P. & Lewis, G.P. (2006). The wood anatomy of the Mimosoideae (Leguminosae). IAWA Journal supplement 5. 117 pages.
  • Gasson, P., Warner, K. & Lewis, G.P. (2009). Wood anatomy of Caesalpinia s.l.: Caesalpinia s.s., Coulteria, Erythrostemon, Guilandina, Libidibia, Mezoneuron, Poincianella and Tara (Leguminosae, Caesalpinioideae, Caesalpinieae). IAWA Journal 30: 247-276.
  • Dias Leme, C.L., Cartwright, C. & Gasson, P. (2010). Anatomical changes to the wood of Mimosa ophthalmocentra and Mimosa tenuiflora when charred at different temperatures. IAWA Journal 31: 335-351.
  • Gasson, P., Miller, R., Stekel, D., Whinder, F. & Zieminska, K. (2010). Wood identification of Dalbergia nigra (CITES Appendix I) using quantitative wood anatomy, Principal Components Analysis and Naïve Bayes Classification. Annals of Botany 105: 45-56.
  • MacLachlan, I. & Gasson, P. (2010). Quantitative wood anatomy using multivariate principal components analysis for identification of the CITES listed Pterocarpus santalinus (Dalbergieae , Papilionoideae, Leguminosae). IAWA Journal 31(2): 121-138.

Project partners and collaborators


Pieter Baas, National Herbarium Nederland, Leiden


Elisabeth Wheeler, North Carolina State University


Nigel Warwick, University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Joe Miller, Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Canberra
Dan Murphy, National Herbarium of Victoria