Neotropical Balsaminaceae

Nigel P. Taylor and Daniela Zappi

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 


Herbaceous, semi-succulent, erect, glabrous plants, never woody. Leaves generally petiolate, with two distal glands, venation pinnate, margin entire to variously crenate or dentate, leaf-blades fleshy when alive, drying membranaceous; stipules absent. Inflorescences of axillary small cymes or fascicles, or flowers solitary. Flowers hermaphrodite, with bilateral symmetry, hypogynous, calyx (3-)5-merous, lobes fused and forming a nectar-secreting spur, corolla 5-merous, lobes fused, showy, brightly coloured, white, pink, salmon, red or mauve; stamens 5, minute, filaments and anthers connate into a calyptra above gynoecium, anthers dehiscing longitudinally; ovary superior, 5-locular, with many ovules with axillary placentation. Fruit a fleshy capsule, opening by explosive longitudinal dehiscence with valves curling up, 10-20-seeded; seeds generally rounded, testa smooth, matt, brown, embryo straight, endosperm lacking or little.

Notes on delimitation

  • Placed within the Ericales, together with Marcgraviaceae (APG II, 2003).

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Introduced into the Neotropics, represented by a single species, Impatiens walleriana Hook. f., very widespread in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil and known as 'Maria Sem Vergonha'. Other species cultivated as ornamentals.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

Number of genera

  • 1: Impatiens L.

Notable genera and distinguishing features



  • A few species cultivated in gardens, I. walleriana naturalized in Eastern Brazil.

Important literature

APG II, 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141(4): 399-436.

How to cite

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