Neotropical Canellaceae

Denise Sasaki

Secretaria do Meio Ambiente, Governo do Estado de So Paulo, Brazil.


Trees, rarely shrubs, evergreen, often aromatic. Leaves simple, alternate (distichous or spiral), entire, leathery, glabrous (or nearly so), often gland-dotted, pinnately veined, margins entire, petiolate or subsessile, stipules absent. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, panicles, racemes or cymes, or solitary flowers in leaf axils (Pleodendron). Flowers hermaphrodite, actinomorphic; sepals 3, leathery, imbricate; petals 5-12, in 1-4 whorls, usually free (basally connate in Canella) and fleshy, imbricate; stamens 6-12, connate in a tube around the ovary; ovary superior, syncarpous, carpels (2-)3-4(-6), locule 1, style 1, short, stigma lobes 2-6, placentation parietal. Fruits berries, endocarp firm. Seeds 2-numerous, with abundant oily endosperm.

Notes on delimitation

  • The taxonomy of the Canellaceae has been controversial and some members of this family were initially classified as Winteraceae (Salazar & Nixon 2008).
  • The Canellaceae is placed in the order Magnoliales by Cronquist (1981). Recent studies place the family in Canellales, with Winteraceae (Judd et al. 1999, Soltis & Soltis, 2004, Stevens 2008).

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Canella P. Browne: West Indies to northern South America.
  • Cinnamodendron Endl.: from southern Brazil, through northern South America to Greater Antilles.
  • Pleodendron Tieghem.: Greater Antilles and Costa Rica.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

  • In Winteraceae, the wood lacks vessels, the leaves are usually glaucous abaxially, the stamens are free, the gynoecium is apocarpous (carpels 1-24) and the placentation is marginal. On the other hand, in Canellaceae, the wood has vessels, the leaves are usually glossy, the stamens are connate in a tube, the gynoecium is syncarpous (carpels 2-6) and the placentation is parietal.

Number of genera

  • Canella.
  • Cinnamodendron.
  • Pleodendron.

Useful tips for generic identification

Notable genera and distinguishing features

  • Cinnamodendron is the largest genus and has the wider distribution among the Neotropical genera.
  • According to Salazar (2006) and Salazar & Nixon (2008), the Cinnamodendron species from the Greater Antilles (5 spp.) and from South America (6 spp.) do not form a monophyletic taxon and each group is characterized by the number of floral parts (petals, stamens, carpels, ovules) and also by differences in the seeds. 
  • The genus Capsicodendron is here considered to be part of Cinnamodendron, as supported by some authors (Kubitzki 1993, Salazar 2006, Salazar & Nixon 2008).


  • The Canellaceae has three Neotropical genera and two African ones.
  • The Greater Antilles is the center of diversity and endemicity for the family, with three genera (Canella, Cinnamodendron and Pleodendron).
  • In the Neotropics, most species have local distribution and are very rare, except for Canella winterana (L.)Gaertn.

General notes

  • The widespread Canella winterana is traditionally used for medicinal, fishing, aphrodisiac, ritualistic, and aromatic purposes (Salazar, 2006).
  • One species, Pleodendron macranthum, is in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as critically endangered.
  • A new genus, Antillodendron, has been recently proposed based on Cinnamodendron corticosum Miers (Salazar 2006). Both Cinnamodendron corticosum and Cinnamodendron cubense, which are now incorporated in Antillodendron, are listd by IUCN as vulnerable and endangered respectively.

Important literature

Barros, F. & Salazar, J. 2009. Cinnamodendron occhionianum, a new species of Canellaceae from Brazil. Novon 19: 11-14.

Cronquist, A. 1981. An integrated system of classification of flowering plants.  Columbia University Press, New York.

Hammel, B.E. & Zamora, N.A. 2005. Pleodendron costaricense (Canellaceae), a new species for Costa Rica. Lankesteriana 5(3): 211-218.

Mabberley, D.J. 2007. Cannelaceae. In: Heywood, V.H., Brummit, R.K., Culham, A. & Seberg, O. (ed.). Flowering Plant Families of the World, p. 84. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kubitzki, K. 1993. Canellaceae. In: K. Kubitzki, J. G. Rohwer & V. Bittrich (eds.). The families and genera of vascular plants: flowering plants. Dycotyledons, Magnoliid, Hamamelid and Caryophyllid families, vol II., pp. 200-203. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York.

IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. <>. Downloaded on 21 July 2009.

Judd, W.S., Campbell, C.S., Kellog, E.A. & Sterens, S.P.F. 1999.  Plant Systematics: A phylogenetic approach.  Sinauer Assoc., Sunderlan MA.

Salazar, J. & Nixon, K. 2008. New Discoveries in the Canellaceae in the Antilles: How Phylogeny can Support Taxonomy. Bot. Rev. 74:103-111.

Salazar, J. 2006. Systematics of Neotropical Canellaceae. Ph.D. thesis, Cornell University.

Soltis, P.S. & Soltis, D.E. 2004.  The origin and diversification of angiosperms.  American Journal of Botany 91: 1614-1626.

Stevens, P.F. 2008. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website, version 9.

Zanoni, T. 2004. Canellaceae. In: N. Smith, S. A. Mori, A. Henderson, D. W. Stevenson & S. V. Heald (eds.). Flowering plants of the Neotropics, p. 81. New York Botanical Garde & Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Wilson, T.K. 1966. The Comparative Morphology of the Canellaceae. IV. Floral Morphology and Conclusions. Amer. J. Bot. 53(4): 336-343.

How to cite

Sasaki, D. (2009). Neotropical Canellaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgrd, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.