Neotropical Caryocaraceae

Ghillean T. Prance

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 


Large trees or more rarely shrubs or suffrutices, with opposite branches which are frequently horizontal. Stipules absent or present and soon caducousLeaves opposite or alternate, usually long-petiolate but very rarely almost sessile, trifoliolate;  leaflets with short petioles, pinnately nerved, margins serrate, crenulate, dentate or rarely entire. Often with 2-4 stipels at base of leaflets, stipels persistent or caducous, sometimes with 2 large and 2 small stipels, absent in Anthodiscus G.Mey. Inflorescences of terminal racemes with a short rachis often rather corymbose;  pedicels articulate at apex. Bracts seldom developed, usually none, bracteoles lateral, alternate, small, subpersistent or caducousFlowers hermaphrodite, large in Caryocar L., small in Anthodiscus. Calyx distinctly 5(-6)-lobed, imbricate or with very small reduced indistinct dentate lobes. Petals 5 or rarely 6, imbricate, fused at base together with base of filaments and often caducous with filaments or fused at apex to form a caducous calyptra. Stamens numerous, 57-750, exceeding petals; filaments bent into an S in bud, those on interior shorter and sterile or with smaller anthers, often with a row of short sterile staminodes on interior, basal portion of which form a glandular nectar secreting tissue or interior filaments erect and smaller in bud and outer filaments recurved towards apex; apical portion of filaments tuberculate and entire length of smaller filaments sometimes tuberculate;  anthers bilocular, oblong, introrse, dorsifixed or basifixed, longitudinally dehiscent. Ovary 4-locular, or rarely 6-locular, with a single ovule in each loculus, 8-15 locular in Anthodiscus. Styles 4 or 8-12, long filamentous. Fruit 4-6 or 8-15 locular, a drupe with from 1-4 loculi developing, and dehiscing into 1 seeded cocci or when 8-15 locular with most loculi developing seeds;  mesocarp thick and fatty or fleshyendocarp woody, muricate, tuberculate or spinous on exterior; or with a thick woody ridged pericarp, seeds reniform or subreniform, the embryo with a straight to arcuate radicle or laterally compressed. Germination hypogeal, first leaves opposite (in 2 species observed). N = 23.

Notes on delimitation

  • Generally placed in the Theales by almost all systems and thought to be close to Theaceae.
  • The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) place it in the order Malpighiales that also includes the Theaceae, but they are not considered close within the order.
  • They are thought to have diverged from other Malpighiales in the Cretaceous-Albian, 111-100 million years before present.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Confined to the Neotropics.
  • Caryocar from Costa Rica to Central and eastern Brazil and Bolivia.
  • Anthodiscus mainly in Western Amazonia and Venezuela with one species in eastern Brazil.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Stamens with tubercules on filaments.
  • Trifoliolate leaves often with serrate margins in both genera.
  • Differs from Theaceae in both these characters.
  • Many stamens.

Number of genera

  • Two genera in family, both Neotropical: Anthodiscus and Caryocar.

Useful tips for generic identification

Key to genera of Neotropical Caryocaraceae

1. Leaves opposite; calyx deeply lobed; ovary and fruit 4 (-6) locular; styles 4; radicle of embryo straight ...Caryocar
1. Leaves alternate; calyx truncately dentate and reduced; ovary and fruit 8-20-locular; styles 8-20; radicle of embryo twisted ...Anthodiscus   


  • Native and endemic.

General notes

  • The fruit of some species of Caryocar are eaten and the genus also furnishes a good wood.
  • Caryocar is bat pollinated.

Important literature

Prance, G. T. & Silva, M. F. da, 1973. Monograph of Caryocaraceae. Flora Neotropica 12: 1-75.

Prance, G. T. 1987. An update on the taxonomy and distribution of the Caryocaraceae. Opera Botānica 92: 179-183.       

How to cite

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