Neotropical Symplocaceae

Bertil Ståhl

Gotland University, Visby, Sweden. 


Shrubs or small trees, usually evergreen, hermaphrodite or dioecious. Leaves alternate, rarely pseudo-verticillate, exstipulate, mostly petiolate, simple, margins often glandular-dentate. Inflorescences lateral, racemose, paniculate, fasciculate, or flowers solitary. Flowers supported by 1 to numerous bracts, actinomorphic, campanulate to crateriform, the aestivation imbricate. Calyx persistent, (3-)5-merous, lobe-margins often ciliolate. Corolla sympetalous, the lobes (3-)5(-11), often unequal in size, sometimes divided almost to base, the aestivation imbricate. Stamens usually numerous; the filaments fused at base to corolla tube, either united for most of their length with the free parts ± flattened and abruptly constricted at apex (subgen. Symplocos Jacq.), or free for most of their length, terete, gradually tapering towards apex, and sometimes arranged in five alternipetalous fascicles (subgen. Hopea Garden ex L.); anthers square, subglobose, or broadly oblong, basifixed, longitudinally dehiscent, the dehiscence introrse or lateral. Disc well-developed, glandular, intrastaminal, often pubescent. Pistil 1, style 1, stigma truncate or capitate, usually lobed; ovary inferior to semi-inferior, 2-5-locular, placentation axile, ovules 2-4 per locule. Fruit a drupe, cylindrical, ellipsoid, obovoid or globose, often bluish when mature, the mesocarp often thick and hard. Seed 1 in each locule; endosperm abundant.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • One genus Symplocus Jacq. Southern USA, West Indies,  Central Mexico to Southern Brazil and Paraguay, particularly but not exclusively in montane areas; lacking or very rare in the Central Amazon.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

  • Leaves of some species dry yellowish.

Number of genera

Number of genera 1: Symplocos.

Useful tips for generic identification

Key to sections of Neotropical Symplocaceae

1. Plants glabrous, leaves yellowish green or light green, stamen filaments filiform, united at base only … section Barberina (ca. 25 spp.)
1. Plants often more or less pubescent, rarely completely glabrous, leaves often brownish, at least when dried, stamen filaments flattened, abruptly constricted at apex, united for half their length or more … section Symplocos (ca.150 spp.)



Important literature

Aranha Filho, J.L.M., Fritsch, P.W., Almeda, F. and Martins, A.B. 2007. A revision of Symplocos Jacq. section Neosymplocos Brand (Symplocaceae). Proc. California Acad. Sci. 58: 407-446.

Aristeguieta, L. 1957. El género Symplocos en Venezuela. Bol. Soc. Venezuel. Cienc. Nat. 18: 106-119.

Fritsch, P.W., Kelly, L.M., Wang, Y., Almeda, F. and Kriebel, R. 2008. Revised intrafamilial classification of Symplocos based on phylogenetic data from DNA sequences and morphology. Taxon 57: 823-852.

Kelly, L.M. & F. Almeda 2005. Symplocaceae.: In Daniel, T.F. (ed.), Flora of Chiapas 6: 33-40.

Mai, D.H. 1986. Über antillische Symplocaceae. Feddes Repert. 97: 1-28.

Occhioni, P. 1974. As espécies de Symplocaceae da flora do Paraná. Leandra 4-5: 31-52.

Ståhl, B. 1991. Symplocaceae. In G. Harling and L. Andersson (eds), Flora of Ecuador 43: 1-44.  University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg.

Ståhl, B. 1993. The genus Symplocos (Symplocaceae) in Peru. - Candollea 48: 351-382.

Ståhl, B. 1994. The genus Symplocos (Symplocaceae) in Bolivia. - Candollea 49: 369-388.

Ståhl, B. 1996. The genus Symplocos (Symplocaceae) in Colombia. - Candollea 51: 323-364.

Ståhl, B. 2010. New species and new records of Symplocos (Symplocaceae) from Peru and Bolivia, and a key to all species of Symplocos recorded from Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Nordic J. Bot. 28: 79-87.

Steyermark, J.A. and Berry, P.E. 2005. Symplocaceae. In: Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana. Volume 9, Rutaceae -Zygophyllaceae / volume editors, Paul E. Berry, Kay Yatskievych, and Bruce K. Holst (eds), Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana 9: 290-295. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.

How to cite

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