Neotropical Caprifoliaceae

Daniela Zappi

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 


Shrubs, vines, lianas, rarely trees. Leaves simple, opposite, sometimes ternate, with vestigial interpetiolary stipules, entire, margins often crenateInflorescence generally axillary, cymose, bracteate. Flowers showy, hermaphrodite, slightly to strongly zygomorphic; sepals (4-)5, united in short tube; corolla (4-)5-lobed, joined in a zygomorphic tube, white, pink or red; stamens 3-5, fused to the corolla-tube, anthers 2-locular; ovary inferior, (2-)3 carpellate, style long, exserted, stigma capitate, placentation axile, ovules 1-many per loculeFruit fleshy, generally berries (nutlet in Vesalea), 1-many seeded.

Notes on delimitation

  • In former classifications, the Caprifoliaceae used to include species with actinomorphic flowers, such as Viburnum and Sambucus, but those are nowadays placed within the Adoxaceae after molecular studies (APG II, 2003). The old circumscription is still followed by Delprete in Smith (2004).
  • In 'APGII' (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, 2003) an expanded Dipsacales was promoted in the 'Euasterids II', including a broader concept of the Caprifoliaceae, which encompassed the Dipsacaceae and Valerianaceae known from the Neotropics, along with the Adoxaceae. If sunk into the Caprifoliaceae the Dipsacaceae and Valerianaceae would form very discrete subfamilies. However, in Neotropikey the three families (Caprifoliaceae, Dipsacaceae and Valerianaceae) are treated separately, q.v.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • In the Neotropics, the Caprifoliaceae is a marginal family with a few genera ocurring at high altitude and reaching Mexico from the West of the USA, and none are native in South America.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

  • The opposite leaves, inferior ovary and tubular corolla may generate confusion with the Rubiaceae, but the Caprifoliaceae flowers are mostly zygomorphic and their stipules are vestigial.

Number of genera

  • Vesalea R. Br. (formerly Abelia) - Temperate Asia, reaching Mexico, 2 - 5 species.
  • Lonicera L.  - honeysuckle, from Asia, N. Africa and North America south to Costa Rica, 5 species.
  • Symphoricarpos  Duhamel - snow berry, C. China; North America, reaching Guatemala, two species.

Useful tips for generic identification

Key to genera of Neotropical Caprifoliaceae

1. Climbing plants with twinning stems ... Lonicera
1. Shrubs ... 

2. Berries white, inflated ... Symphoricarpus
2. Nutlets dry, with persistent calyx... Vesalea

Notable genera and distinguishing features

  • Lonicera japonica is often cultivated in the Neotropics.


  • Many species of Caprifoliaceae are cultivated in the Neotropics, especially Lonicera and Vesalea. However, this is not a very prominent family in the region, with only a few species ocurring only marginally in the area.

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.

Delprete, P. Caprifoliaceae in Smith, N., Mori, S.A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D. & Heald, S.V. 2004. Flowering plants of the Neotropics. NYBG, Princeton Univ. Press.

Souza, V.C. & Lorenzi, H. 2005. Botânica Sistemática: guia ilustrativo para identificação das famílias de Angiospermas da flora brasileira, baseado em APG II. Nova Odessa, Brazil: Instituto Plantarum.

How to cite

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