Neotropical Ericaceae

Paola Pedraza

New York Botanical Garden, USA. 


Terrestrial or epiphytic shrubs, subshrubs, perennial herbs, or fleshy achlorophyllous mycotrophs, sometimes lianoid, rarely trees, sometimes rhizomatous or stoloniferous, commonly producing tannins, frequently with hypocotyl maturing as lignotuber up to 1 m diam.;  indumentum of uni- to multicellular hairs or scales, these sometimes glandular. Stems terete or subterete, sometimes conspicuously winged. Leaves alternate, rarely opposite, verticillate, whorled, or lacking and then replaced by bract-like scales, simple, usually petiolate, exstipulate, newly unfolding leaves often a conspicuous red colour; lamina coriaceous to membranous, evergreen to deciduous, the margin entire or sometimes serrulate-crenate, the venation pinnate or plinerved; leaf scars usually with a single vascular bundle scar, nodes usually with one trace and one gap. Inflorescence axillary or rarely terminal, sometimes long-pendent, racemose, paniculate, fasciculate, or flowers solitary, the parts often viscid or secretory in bud; individual flowers pedicellate or rarely sessile in axils of caducous to deciduous or persistent floral bracts, these sometimes conspicuously glandularpedicel usually bibracteolate; bracteoles deciduous or persistent, small or large. Flowers mostly hermaphrodite, but rarely functionally unisexual (more rarely plants dioecious), actinomorphic or slightly zygomorphic, mostly (3-)5(-7)-merous, typically obdiplostemonous, hypogynous or epigynous and with a typically biseriate perianth, typically without floral odors, rarely with extrafloral nectaries; calyx aestivation valvate, imbricate, or reduplicate, continuous or articulate with pedicel, synsepalous, rarely fleshy and accrescent to fruitcalyx tube terete or angled to wingedcorolla membranous to thick-carnose, polypetalous or more commonly sympetalous, cylindric, campanulate or urceolate, terete or angled to winged opposite lobes, sometimes basally gibbous; stamen (5-)8-10(-14), in 2 whorls, usually twice as many as petals or rarely just as many, equal with each other or alternately unequal, borne on edge of an obscure to prominent nectariferous disc; filaments equal or unequal, usually straight or rarely S-shaped (geniculate), sometimes also basally papillose, distinct or connate, shorter or longer than anther; anther inverting during development, 2-celled, equal or unequal, often distally with 2 distinct or connate tubules or terminal awns, sometimes provided with abaxial spurs; white, powdery, disintegration tissue present or lacking; thecae smooth to coarsely granular, with or without a basal appendage; tubules when present conical and rigid or cylindric and flexible, of equal or ca. 1/2 the diameter of thecae, longer to shorter than thecae; dehiscence normally introrse, but rarely extrorse or latrorse, by longitudinal slits or more typically by apical to subapical pores; pollen grains in tetrahedral tetrads or rarely single, sometimes with viscin threads; pistil single; ovary superior or inferior, 4-5(-10)-carpellate, usually with as many locules as carpels or with twice as many locules as carpels or rarely loculate in lower portion and 1-locular above; placentation axile, rarely intruded parietal; ovules numerous per locule or rarely solitary, anatropous to campylotropous with a single integumentary layer; style single, fluted, hollow; stigma simple but occasionally weakly lobed. Fruit a loculicidal or septicidal capsule, berry, or drupe, with a usually persistent, rarely with accrescent and fleshy calyx; seeds small, ca. 1-1.5 mm long, usually numerous (1 per locule in Gaylussacia Kunth), winged or tailed (only in Bejaria Mutis ex L.), sometimes enclosed in a mucilaginous sheath, testa thin with elongated or isodiametric cells, endosperm fleshy, embryo straight, usually white or sometimes green.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Found throughout the Neotropics in montane regions, mostly (but not exclusively) in moist and cool environments.
  • The highest number of species is concentrated in the northern Andes above 1,000 m.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • In the Neotropics Ericaceae have evolved different life-forms and may occupy many different habitats.
  • The species of this family are sometimes quite plastic and many shift between terrestrial and epiphytic habit. However, in the Neotropics Ericaceae grows continuously throughout the year in a seasonal habitats, producing flushes of intensely red-pigmented new leaves . This makes the family very easy to spot in the field.
  • The leaves of many Ericaceae are characteristically coriaceous, sometimes "ericoid", and without stipules.
  • The great majority of the species have flowers with fused petals; the corollas vary in size, shape, and colors (white, pink, red, yellow, green), but some speciose genera have flowers consistently brightly colored or with contrasting colour patterns (see examples in Cavendishia Lindl.).
  • The stamens of Ericaceae are very characteristic because of the presence of different staminal appendages (spurs, awns and tubules), either on the dorsal surface of the anther/filament or at the functional apex of the anther.

Number of genera

46 genera (for more details see

  • Agarista D.Don
  • Anthopteropsis A.C.Sm.
  • Anthopterus Hook.
  • Arbutus L.
  • Arctostaphylos Adans.
  • Bejaria
  • Cavendishia
  • Ceratostema Juss.
  • Chimaphila Pursh
  • Comarostaphylis Zucc.
  • Demosthenesia A.C.Sm.
  • Didonica Luteyn & Wilbur
  • Diogenesia Sleumer
  • Disterigma ( Klotzsch ) Nied.
  • Gaultheria Kalm ex L.
  • Gaylussacia
  • Gonocalyx Planch. & Linden
  • Kalmia L.
  • Lateropora A.C.Sm.
  • Ledothamnus Meisn.
  • Lyonia Nutt.
  • Macleania Hook.
  • Monotropa L.
  • Mycerinus A.C.Sm.
  • Notopora Hook.f.
  • Oreanthes Benth.
  • Orthaea Klotzsch
  • Orthilia Raf.
  • Pellegrinia Sleumer
  • Pernettya Gaudich.
  • Pieris D.Don
  • Plutarchia A.C.Sm.
  • Polyclita A.C.Sm.
  • Psammisia Klotzsch
  • Pterospora Nutt.
  • Pyrola L.
  • Rhododendron L.
  • Rusbya Britton
  • Satyria Klotzsch
  • Semiramisia Klotzsch
  • Siphonandra Klotzsch
  • Sphyrospermum Poepp. & Endl.
  • Tepuia Camp
  • Themistoclesia Klotzsch
  • Thibaudia Ruiz & Pav.
  • Utleya Wilbur & Luteyn
  • Vaccinium L.

Useful tips for generic identification

A key to the genera of Neotropical Ericaceae is available at


  • Over 800 species native to the Neotropics and ca. 94% of them are endemic.
  • Few native species of Cavendishia are locally cultivated in the northern Andes.
  • Rhododendron simsii Planch., endemic to China, occurs as a cultivar and rarely as an escape in the Neotropics.

Important literature

(a complete bibliography can be found at

Kron, K. A., W. S. Judd, P. F. Stevens, D. M. Crayn, A. A. Anderberg, P. A. Gadek, C. J. Quinn & J. L. Luteyn. 2002a. Phylogenetic classification of Ericaceae: molecular and morphological evidence. The Botanical Review 68(3): 335-423.

Kron, K. A., E. A. Powell & J. L. Luteyn. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships within the blueberry tribe(Vaccinieae, Ericaceae) based on sequence data from matK and nuclear ribosomal ITS regions, with comments on the placement of Satyria. American Journal of Botany 89(2): 327-336.

Luteyn, J. L. 2002. Diversity, adaptation, and endemism in neotropical Ericaceae: Biogeographical patterns in the Vaccinieae. The Botanical Review 68(1): 55-87.

Luteyn, J. L. & P. Pedraza-Peñalosa. 2006. Neotropical Blueberries: The Plant Family Ericaceae. [continuously updated].

Luteyn, J. L. & P. Pedraza-Peñalosa. 2007. Rapid color guide to the Ericaceae of the National Park Machu Picchu. The Field Museum at

Luteyn, J. L. & P. Pedraza-Peñalosa. 2007. Rapid color guide to the Ericaceae of Bolivia. The Field Museum at

Luteyn, J. L. & R. L. Wilbur. 2005. Flora Costaricensis. Fieldiana, Botany, new series 45: 1-107.

Stevens, P. F., J. L. Luteyn, E. G. H. Oliver, T. L. Bell, E. A. Brown, R. K. Crowden, A. S. George, G. J. Jordan, P. Ladd, K. Lemson, C. B. McLean, Y. Menadue, J. S. Pate, H. M. Stace & C. M. Weiller. 2004. Ericaceae. Pp. 145-194. In: Kubitzki, K., (ed.) The families and genera of vascular plants VI. Flowering Plants.Dicotyledons: Celastrales, Oxalidales, Rosales, Cornales, Ericales. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

How to cite

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