Neotropical Solanaceae

Sandra Knapp

The Natural History Museum, London, U.K. 


Annual, biennial or perennial herbs, shrubs, trees or vines, often with prickles; growth sympodial; wood usually soft. Leaves alternate, spirally arranged, simple or less commonly pinnate (pinnatifid), estipulate (in Solanum sometimes with pseudostipules). Inflorescences determinate, terminal, usually cymose, but sometimes the flowers solitary and axillary. Flowers actinomorphic or zygomorphic, usually 5-merous, perfect or unisexual (rarely), generally showy; calyx synsepalous, usually persistent in fruit, occasionally inflated (Physalis); corolla sympetalous, often zygomorphic, rotate, tubular, funnelform to salverform, white, yellow, red, pink, purple or blue, occasionally mottled or with a pale or darker throat, aestivation plicate, quincuncial or convolute; androecium variously modified, stamens 2-5, epipetalous; filaments distinct, occasionally a short tube at the base, equal or unequal in length; anthers 2-thecate, basi-, dorsi- or ventrifixed, sometimes with an enlarged connective, equal or unequal, dehiscing longitudinally or by apical pores; gynoecium of 1 pistil, 2-carpellate; ovary superior or sometimes hemi-inferior (Trianaea), 2-locular; ovules numerous to solitary (Duckeodendron, Goetzea), anatropous to campylotropous; placentation axile on protruding placentae; nectary present or absent; style single, stigma 2-lobed or capitate. Fruit a drupe (Duckeodendron, Goetzea, Espadaea, Henoonia), capsule or berry, sometimes enclosed by an inflated calyx; seeds solitary to numerous, if numerous flattened in berries or prismatic in capsules; endosperm copious, fleshy; embryo straight or bent, often spiral. Chromosome number: x = 9, 10, 12, 24, 36 (polyploidy common in some groups of genera).

Notes on delimitation

  • The Solanaceae are members of the order Solanales, along with the Convolvulaceae, Sphenocleaceae and Montinaceae.
  • In Cronquist's system the Solanaceae were considered related to the Hydrophyllaceae (now part of the Lamiales) and the Boraginaceae, of uncertain status near the Solanales.
  • Several genera previously excluded from the Solanaceae have been shown to be nested in the monophyletic family (Olmstead et al., 2008 and references therein): these are Nolana (Nolanaceae), Goetzea, Espadaea, Coeloneurum, Henoonia (Goetzeaceae) and Duckeodendron (Duckeodendronaceae).

Distribution in the Neotropics

75 genera in Neotropics (of 99 total). Distributed and native throughout the Neotropics, from southern USA to Patagonia.

  • Acnistus Schott (2 spp.) - Andes.
  • Athenaea Sendtn. (7 spp.) - Brazil.
  • Aureliana Sendtn. (5 spp.) - Brazil.
  • Benthamiella Speg. (12 spp.) - Andes and Patagonia.
  • Bouchetia Dunal (3 spp.) - Mexico, Argentina.
  • Brachistus Miers (3 spp.) - Mexico and Central America.
  • Browallia L. (4 spp.) - Mexico along Andes.
  • Brugmansia Pers. (6 spp.) - Andes.
  • Brunfelsia L. (50 spp.) - Caribbean, Central and South America.
  • Calibrachoa La Llave & Lex. (24 spp.) - Mexico, southern Brazil.
  • Capsicum L. (25 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics (widely cultivated).
  • Cestrum L. (250 spp.) - Mexico to Argentina.
  • Chamaesaracha (A.Gray) Benth. (10 spp.) - Mexico.
  • Coeloneurum Radkl. (1 sp.) - Caribbean.
  • Combera Sandw. (2 spp.) - Andes and Patagonia.
  • Cuatresia Hunz. (12 spp.) - Central and South America.
  • Darcyanthus Hunz. (1 sp.) - Andes.
  • Datura L. (11 spp.) - Mexico.
  • Deprea Raf. (7 spp.) - Andes.
  • Duckeodendron Kuhlm. (1 sp.) - Amazonia.
  • Dunalia Kunth (5 spp.) - Andes.
  • Dyssochroma Miers (1 sp.) - SE Brazil.
  • Eriolarynx Hunz. (3 spp.) - Andes.
  • Espadaea A.Rich. (1 sp.) - Caribbean.
  • Exodeconus Raf. (6 spp.) - W coast of South America, Galapagos.
  • Fabiana Ruiz & Pav. (15 spp.) - Andes and Patagonia.
  • Goetzea Wydl. (2 spp.) - Caribbean.
  • Grabowskia Schltdl. (4 sppp.) - Andes.
  • Henoonia Griseb. (1 sp.) - Caribbean.
  • Heteranthia Nees & Mart. (1 sp.) - Brazil.
  • Hunzikeria D'Arcy (3 spp.) - Mexico.
  • Jaborosa  Juss. (25 spp.) - Argentina.
  • Jaltomata Schltdl. (50 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Juanulloa Ruiz & Pav. (10 spp.) - Central and South America.
  • Larnax Miers (12 spp.) - Andes.
  • Latua Phil. (1 sp.) - Chile.
  • Leptoglossis Benth. (7 spp.) - W coast of South America, Argentina.
  • Lochroma Benth. (25 spp.) - Andes.
  • Lycianthes Bitter (c. 150 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Lycium L. (c. 50 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Margaranthus  (1 sp.) - Mexico.
  • Markea A.Rich. (15 spp.) - Central and South America.
  • Melananthus Walp. (6 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Merinthopodium Donn.Sm. (3 spp.) - Central and northern South America.
  • Metternichia Mikan (1 sp.) - SE Brazil.
  • Nectouxia Kunth (1 sp.) - Mexico.
  • Nicandra Adans. (1 sp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Nicotiana L. (c. 50 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Nierembergia Ruiz & Pav. (20 spp.) - Southern South America.
  • Nolana L. (90 spp.) - W coast of South America, Galapagos.
  • Oryctes S.Watson (1 sp.) - Nevada.
  • Pantacantha Speg. (1 sp.) - Andes and Patagonia.
  • Petunia L. (14 spp.) - SE Brazil and adjacent southern Cone.
  • Phrodus Miers (1 sp.) - Andes.
  • Physalis L. (90 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Plowmania Hunz. & Subils (1 sp.) - Guatemala, Mexico.
  • Protoschwenkia Soler. (1 sp.) - Bolivia.
  • Quincula Raf. (1 sp.) - Mexico.
  • Reyesia Gay (2 spp.) - Southern South America (W).
  • Salpichroa Miers (15 spp.) - Andes.
  • Salpiglossis Ruiz & Pav. (2 spp.) - Southern South America (W).
  • Saracha Ruiz & Pav. (2 spp.) - Andes.
  • Schizanthus Ruiz & Pav. (12 spp.) - Southern South America (W).
  • Schultesianthus Hunz. (8 spp.) - Central and South America.
  • Schwenkia L. (25 spp.) - throughout.
  • Sclerophylax Miers (12 spp.) - Southern Andes.
  • Sessea Ruiz & Pav. (5 spp.) - Andes.
  • Solandra Sw. (10 spp.) - Central and South America.
  • Solanum L. (c. 1,000 spp.) - throughout the Neotropics.
  • Streptosolen Miers (1 sp.) - Andes (widely cultivated).
  • Trianaea Planch. & Linden (7 spp.) - South America (Andes).
  • Tzeltalia E. Estrada & M. Martínez (2 spp.) - Mexico and Central America.
  • Vassobia Rusby (2 spp.) - Andes.
  • Vestia Willd. (1 sp.) - Chile.
  • Witheringia L'Hér. (25 spp.) - Mexico and Central America, to South America Andes.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

  • Other important characters include sympetalous flowers, sympodial growth and cymose inflorescences.

Key differences from similar families

  • The Solanaceae differ from the Convolvulaceae in being primarily shrubs, herbs and trees. When vines the stems do not twine as in the morning glories, but the petioles are twining.
  • Bud aestivation is never conduplicate as in the Convolvulaceae.

Number of genera

See above.

Useful tips for generic identification

Here tips are provided only for those genera most likely to be encountered, or for those with large numbers of species:

  • Solanum is by far the largest genus in the family, and is the one most likely to be encountered in the Neotropics; it can be recognized by the combination of 5-parted, more or less (with some subtle exception) regular corolla that is usually spreading, a cone of yellow, erect anthers (poricidal at the tips) that are usually connivent and often tapering and a 5-parted calyx. Plants are either prickly (tapered anthers) or not; shrubby plants lacking prickles often resemble Cestrum vegetatively.
  • Lycianthes has very similar flowers to those of Solanum with a yellow anther cone (anthers poricidal), but the calyx is entire or 10-parted.
  • Physalis is common in drier areas and has the berries enclosed in an inflated calyx; the flowers are yellow with purple maculations.
  • Nolana is confined to the western slopes of the Andes and the deserts, and has blue or white flowers are fruits composed of a number of mericarps.
  • Cestrum has the overall vegetative aspect members of Solanum section Geminata (see Knapp, 2002), but has tubular flowers and berry -like fruits with large prismatic seeds. The fruits are often white.
  • Jaltomata are herbaceous plants with variously tubular corollas, spreading calyces and usually have greenish maculations in the corolla. These plants sometimes have blood-red nectar.
  • Several genera of Solanaceae are large, epiphytic shrubs - Juanulloa has tubular usually orange flowers; Markea has flowers that are white or greenish (except Markea coccinea of the Amazon with red flowers) with large spreading lobes and berries with tiny, rectangular seeds; Trianaea, Merinthopodium and Dyssochroma are all bat-pollinated and have large, tough greenish corollas, often on long, pendant peduncles.

Notable genera and distinguishing features

See above.


  • Native; a few species are cultivated - these include Solanum melongena L. (eggplant or aubergine) from Asia and Solanum aethiopicum L. (scarlet eggplant) from Africa. Of the 75 genera occurring in the Neotropics, all but Physalis, Nicotiana, Solanum and Lycianthes are endemic (i.e., 71 endemic genera), although many Neotropical species have been introduced elsewhere.

General notes

  • Many Neotropical taxa are widely cultivated for food (Capsicum, Solanum), medicine (Nicotiana, Brunfelsia) or as ornamentals (Petunia, Streptosolen).
  • A number of references to works concerning Solanum can be found at Solanaceae Source (; this bibliography is being updated to include all Solanaceae genera. Hunziker (2000) is the most recent work to include keys to genera, although he does not recognise many of the genera included here as members of the Solanaceae.

Important literature

Barboza, G.E. 2005. Revision of Solanum sect. Chamaesarachidium. Nordic Journal Botany. 23(2): 155-168.

Benítez de Rojas, C.E. 1974. Los géneros de las Solanaceae en Venezuela. Revista de la Facultad de Agronomía. (Maracay) 7(3): 25-108.

Bohs, L. 1990. The systematics of Solanum section Allophyllum. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 77: 398-409.

Bohs, L. 2001. Revision of Solanum section Cyphomandropsis (Solanaceae). Syst. Bot. Monog. 61: 1-85.

Bohs, L. 1994. Cyphomandra (Solanaceae). Flora Neotropica 63: 1-175.

Contreras-M., A. & D.M. Spooner 1999. Revision of Solanum section Etuberosum. In: M. Nee, D.E. Symon, &and J.P. Jessop (eds). Solanaceae IV: advances in biology and utilization. Pp. 227-245. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Edmonds, J.M. 1977. Taxonomic studies on Solanum section Solanum (Maurella). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 75: 141-178.

Hunziker, A.T. 2000. The genera of Solanaceae. Ruggell: A.R.G. Gantner Verlag.

Knapp, S. 2002. Floral diversity and evolution in the Solanaceae. In Developmental genetics and plant evolution (eds. Q.C.B. Cronk, R.M. Bateman & J.A. Hawkins) pp. 267-297. London: Taylor & Francis.

Knapp, S. 2002. Solanum section Geminata (G. Don) Walpers (Solanaceae). Flora Neotropica 84: 1-405.

Knapp, S. 2008. A revision of the Solanum havanense species group (section Geminata (G. Don) Walp. pro parte) and new taxonomic additions to the Geminata clade (Solanum: Solanaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 95(3): 405-458.

Olmstead, R.G., Bohs, L., Migid, H.A., Santiago-Valentin, E., García, V.F. & Collier, S.M. 2008. A molecular phylogeny of the Solanaceae. Taxon 57, 1159-1181.

Peralta, I.E., D.M. Spooner & S. Knapp. 2008. Taxonomy of wild tomatoes and their relatives (Solanum sections Lycopersicoides, Juglandifolia, Lycopersicon; Solanaceae). Systematic Botany Monographs 84: 1-186.

Plowman, T.C. (ed. S. Knapp & J.R. Press). 1998. A revision of the South American species of Brunfelsia (Solanaceae). Fieldiana, Botany. n.s. 39, 1-135.

Santiago-Valentin, E. & Olmstead, R.G. 2003. Phylogenetics of the Antillean Goetzeoideae (Solanaceae) and their relationships within the Solanaceae based on chloroplast and ITS DNA sequence data. Systematic. Botany 28, 452-460.

Smith, S.D. & Baum, D.A. 2006. Phylogenetics of the florally diverse Andean clade Iochrominae (Solanaceae). American Journal of Botany. J. Bot. 93, 1140-1153.

Spooner, D.M., R.G. van den Berg, A. Rodríguez, J. Bamberg, R.J. Hijmans, & S.I. Lara-Cabrera 2004. Wild potatoes (Solanum section Petota; Solanaceae) of North and Central America. Syst. Bot. Monog. 68: 1-209 + 9 plates.

Stehmann, J.R., Lorenz-Lemke, A.P., Freitas, L.B. & Semir, J. 2009. The genus Petunia. In: T. Gerats & J. Strommer (eds.). Petunia: evolutionary, developmental and physiological genetics, pp. 1-28. New York: Springer Sciene+Business Media.

Whalen, M.D. 1980. Conspectus of Solanum subgenus Leptostemonum. Gentes Herbarium 12: 179-282.

How to cite

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