Neotropical Adoxaceae

Jon L. R. Every

Reading University, U.K. 


Small trees or shrubs.  Leaves opposite, simple, lamina dissected and palmatifid (Viburnum L.), entire or compound and imparipinnate (Sambucus L.); margins entire, dentate or serrate; primary venation pinnate, secondary venation palmate to pinnate; stipules or stipule-like glandular appendages present or absent; indumentum not uncommon, stellate in ViburnumInflorescence terminal (Sambucus) or axillary corymbs, cymes, panicles or umbels.  Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic, 5-merous (rarely 4-merous), bracteate or not; epigynous disk present (in Sambucus); calyx inconspicuous; corolla members fused; stamens 5, adnate to corolla and alternating with corolla lobes, anthers dorsifixed and dehiscing via full-length longitudinal slits; ovary inferior to partly inferior, carpels (1)2-5(8), syncarpous, locules (1)3(5), stigma more or less non stylate.  Fruit indehiscent either a berry (Sambucus) or a drupe (Viburnum).  Seeds (1)3(5).

Notes on delimitation

  • Resolved within the Dipsacales (APG III, 2009).
  • Often separated into distinct monogeneric families (Viburnaceae and Sambucaceae) or within the larger Caprifoliaceae.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Mesophytic areas throughout the Neotropics.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Key differences from similar families

Number of genera

  • Sambucus and Viburnum

Useful tips for generic identification


  • Native.

General notes

  • Also known as the Moschatel family.
  • Both genera widely cultivated for their fruits and ornamental value.

Important literature

Watson, L. and Dallwitz, M.J. (1992 onwards). The Families of Flowering Plants: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. Version 3rd March 2009.

Delprete, P. G. . 2004. (Caprifoliaceae) In: Smith, N., Mori, S. A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D. W. and Heald, S. V. (eds). Flowering Plants of the Neotropics. The New York Botanical Garden, Princeton University Press, Princeton. Pp 83-85.

Brummitt, R. K. (Sambucaceae). 2007. In: V.H. Heywood, R.K. Brummitt, A. Culham and O. Seberg (eds). Flowering plant families of the world. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Pp 290-291

Brummitt, R. K. (Viburnaceae). 2007. In: V.H. Heywood, R.K. Brummitt, A. Culham and O. Seberg (eds). Flowering plant families of the world. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. P 331

Stevens, P. F. 2008. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 9 onwards.

Mabberley, D. J. 2008. Mabberley's Plant-book. 3rd ed. p. 388. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Judd, W. S., Campbell, C. S., Kellogg, E. A., Stevens, P. F., Donoghue, M. J. 2008. Plant Systematics: a phylogenetic approach 3rd ed. Sinauer Associates, Massachusetts. P 476.

APG III. 2009. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. Vol 161: 3. Pp. 105-121.

How to cite

Every, J.L.R. (2010). Neotropical Adoxaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.