Neotropical Boraginaceae

MarŪa N. SŠnchez de Stapf

Smithsonian Tropical Institute Research, Panama. 


Herbs, subshrubs, shrubs, trees, rarely lianas; rarely obligate root parasites with chlorophyll absent in Lennoa Lex. Hairs usually present, occasionally containing cystoliths, simple or glandular. Leaves usually alternate, rarely subopposite (Tournefortia L.), sometimes basal (Plagiobothrys Fisch. & C.A.Mey.), simple, rarely compound (Phacelia Juss.), reduced to scales in Lennoa, exstipulate; lamina entire, usually rough to hispid, margins mostly entire, or crenate, or serrate, or dentate with venation pinnatedomatia occurring in Cordia L. and Ehretia P.Browne. Inflorescence terminal, axillary, or intermodal, cymose, the branches often scorpioid, helicoid, or reduced and capitate to glomerate (as Varronia P.Browne), rarely reduced to one solitary flower (some Heliotropium L.). Flowers actinomorphic, sometimes distylous (Varronia and Cordia), usually 5-merous, hermaphrodite or unisexual; calyx usually 5-lobed, distinct or connate. Corolla sympetalous, usually 5-lobed; stamens isomerous, alternate with corolla lobes; filaments adnate to corolla tube; anthers 2-locular, dehiscing longitudinally; ovary superior, 2-carpellate, but usually becoming falsely 4-locular, with axile placentation or often parietal with 2 placentae in Phacelia; ovules usually 4, anatropous to hemitropous; the style terminal or gynobasic, simple, or bifid (Ehretioideae, Phacelia), or twice 2-cleft (Cordia and Varronia); stigmas 1-4; nectar disk usually present around base of ovary. Fruits fleshy or dry drupaceous, or mericarps 2 (2-seeded) or 4 ( 4-seeded), or a capsule; seeds 4 per fruit, often less by abortion; endosperm present or absent; cotyledons entire of flat, or rarely plicate (Cordia and Varronia).  

Notes on delimitation

  • The family is circumscribed broadly, including Hydrophyllaceae (except Hydrolea L.) and Lennoaceae.
  • It is considered monophyletic on the basis of inflorescence type and DNA sequences data (Ferguson 1999; Gottschling et al. 2001).

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

  • Cystoliths commonly present.

Number of genera

The Boraginaceae comprise approximately 205 genera and 2500 species worldwide, of which 23 genera and approximately 500 species are neotropical.


Neotropical genera:

  • Amsinckia Lehm.
  • Antiphytum DC. ex Meisn.
  • Bourreria P.Browne
  • Cordia (including Auxemma Miers, Patagonula L. and Saccellium Humb. & Bonpl.)
  • Cryptantha Lehm. ex Fisch. & C.A.Mey.
  • Ehretia
  • Hackelia Opiz
  • Heliotropium
  • Lasiarrhenum I.M. Johnst.
  • Lennoa
  • Lepidocordia Ducke
  • Lithospermum L.
  • Macromeria D.Don
  • Moritzia DC. ex Meisn.
  • Nama L.
  • Pectocarya DC. ex Meisn.
  • Phacelia
  • Plagiobothrys
  • Rochefortia Sw.
  • Tiquilia Pers.
  • Tournefortia
  • Wigandia Kunth
  • Varronia P.Browne

Useful tips for generic identification

Notable genera and distinguishing features


  • Many species have been introduced as ornamental plants or weeds, e.g. the genera Anchusa L., Borago L., Cynoglossum L., Echium L., Myosotis L. and Symphytum L..
  • The genus Varronia is endemic.

Important literature

Candolle, A.P. de. 1845. Borragineae. Pp. 467-501. In De Candolle, A. (ed.), Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabilis, 9. Treuttel & WŁrtz, Paris.

Diane, N., H. FŲrther & H.H. Hilger. 2002. A systematic analysis of Heliotropium, Tournefortia, and allied taxa of the Heliotropiaceae (Boraginales) based on ITS1 sequences and morphological data. American Journal of Botany 89(2): 287-295.

Ferguson, D. M. 1999. Phylogenetic analysis and relationships in Hydrophyllaceae s. str. based on ndhF sequence data. Syst. Bot. 23: 253-268.

Gottschling, M. & J.S. Miller. 2006. Clarification of the taxonomic position of Auxemma, Patagonula, and Saccellium (Cordiaceae, Boraginales). Syst. Bot. 31(2): 361-367.

Gottschling, M., H.H. Hilger, M. Wolf & N. Diane. 2001. Secondary structure of the ITS1 transcript and its application in a reconstruction of the phylogeny of Boraginales. Plant Biology 3: 629-636.

Gottschling, M., M. Weigend & H.H. Hilger. 2005. Congruence of a phylogeny of Cordiaceae (Boraginales) inferred from ITS1 sequence data with morphology, ecology, and biogeography. Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 92: 425-437.

Miller, J.S. & M. Gottschling. 2007. Generic classification in the Cordiaceae (Boraginales): Resurrection of the genus Varronia P. Br. (Cordiaceae). Taxon 56(1): 163-169.

Yatskievych, G. and C.T. Mason. 1986. A revision of the Lennoaceae. Syst. Bot. 11: 531-548.

Smith, R.A., D.M. Ferguson, T.J. Barkman & C.W. Pamphilis. 2000. Molecular phylogenetic evidence for the origin of Lennoaceae: A case of adelphoparasitism in the angiosperms? Amer. J. Bot. [Suppl.] 87: 158.

Stapf, M.N.S. 2007.  AvaliaÁ„o da classificaÁ„o infragenťrica de Cordia L. (Cordiaceae) e revis„o taxonůmica de Cordia sect. Pilicordia DC. Para o Brasil.  Tese Doutorado BotŠnica, Feira de Santana: Universidade Estadual de Feira, Brasil.

How to cite

Stapf, M.N.S. (2009). Neotropical Boraginaceae. In: Milliken, W., KlitgŚrd, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.

Click images to enlarge

Inflorescence of Amsinckia calycina © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Flower of Cordia anisophylla © MarŪa Stapf.

Fruit of Cordia correae © MarŪa Stapf.

Senescing inflorescence of Cordia curassavica © John Wood, Darwin Initiative Project 161/11/016.

Flower of Cordia diversifolia © MarŪa Stapf.

Flower of Cordia glabrata © MarŪa Stapf.

Flower of Cordia insignis © MarŪa Stapf.

Flowers of Cordia nodosa © Denise Sasaki, Programa Flora Cristalino.

Flower of Cordia rufescens © MarŪa Stapf.

Fruit of Cordia rufescens © MarŪa Stapf.

Flower of Cordia sebestena © MarŪa Stapf.

Foliage of Cordia sellowiana © Peter Gasson, RBG, Kew.

Flower of Cordia superba © MarŪa Stapf.

Crypthantha granulosa, flowering plant © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Crypthantha parviflora, flowering plant © Christian Schwarzer, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Cynoglossum amabile, common but introduced from China © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Cynoglossum amabile, white form © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Heliotropium submolle, inflorescence © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Pectocarya lateriflora, individual, mature nutlet © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Phacelia pinnatifida, sterile leaf rosette © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Phacelia pinnatifida, flowers © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Phacelia secunda, flowering plant in shelter of rocks © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Plagiobothrys kunthii, carpets in seepage area © Maximilian Weigend, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Plagiobothrys myosotoides, individual plant © Christian Schwarzer, Freie Universitšt Berlin.

Inflorescence of Varronia curassavica © MarŪa Stapf.

Inflorescence of Varronia striata © MarŪa Stapf.