Neotropical Hippocrateaceae

Julio Antonio Lombardi

Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho, São Paulo, Brazil. 


Mostly lianas, shrubs, or trees, sometimes treelets with slender branches ± scandent; stems with anomalous growth, with included phloem present in the fleshy -fruited genera (Salacia L.); lateral brachyblasts usually present and tendril-like, sometimes restarting growth after twining; hairs rarely present, simple and generally restricted to inflorescences and flowers, rare on young branches, leaves and fruits; stipules present, minute and usually caducous, sometimes leaving interstipular scar. Leaves opposite or subopposite, rarely alternate, simple; blade margins crenulate, serrate or entire. Inflorescences axillary or on axillary brachyblasts (some may falsely appear to be terminal), thyrsoid, cymose, corymbose or fasciculate; bracts, and sometimes bracteoles, present, small. Flowers actinomorphic, small, bisexual; flower buds spherical to ovate; perianth usually persistent; sepals 5, imbricate, free, connate at the very base, or rarely connate, not enclosing petals in bud; petals 5, imbricate, distinct, alternate to sepals, usually yellow-green to white; extrastaminal nectariferous disc present and usually well-developed, annular, pulvinate, patelliform, short-tubular, cupuliform, cylindric, or columnar; androecium usually with 3 stamens, rarely 5, minute, distinct, reflexed outward after anthesis, the filaments sometimes connate to inner disk wall, the anthers dehiscing by transverse or oblique slits; gynoecium syncarpous, the ovary superior, often triangular in shape, the carpels usually 3, rarely 5, the locules equal to the number of carpels, style short, awl-shaped, sometimes absent, the stigmas usually 3 entire, bilobed, or obscure; placentation axillary or subapical, the 1-10 ovules per locule, patent or somewhat pendulous. Fruits berries, or woody capsules, the capsules commonly 3-lobed, or a schizocarp with 3 strongly divergent dehiscent mericarps on swollen receptacle; seeds usually 3-6 (in berries), 6 to ± 30 (in capsules), often 3-sided (in berries), sometimes winged at base (in capsules), wing sometimes vestigial and testa spongy, or with sarcotesta and embedded in mucilaginous pulp (in berries); endosperm absent.

Notes on delimitation

Included in Celastraceae as two distinct subfamilies in most recent classifications, including the APGII;

  • Hippocrateoideae (dry-fruited species)
  • Salacioideae (fleshy -fruited species)

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Anthodon Ruiz & Pav. - Panama to SE Brazil.
  • Cheiloclinium Miers - Mesoamerica to SE Brazil.
  • Cuervea Triana ex Miers - Mesoamerica to SE Brazil, Caribbean islands (St Vincent, Cuba, and Jamaica).
  • Elachyptera A.C.Sm. - Mesoamerica to SE Brazil.
  • Hippocratea L. - Florida to N Argentina, and Caribbean islands.
  • Hylenaea Miers - Costa Rica to Amazon basin.
  • Peritassa Miers - Costa Rica to Paraguay.
  • Prionostemma Miers - Mesoamerica to NE Brazil and Bolivia.
  • Pristimera Miers - México to N Argentina.
  • Salacia L. - México to Paraguay, and Cuba.
  • Semialarium N.Hallé - Mexico to SE Brazil.
  • Tontelea Miers - Mesoamerica to Paraguay.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

Number of genera

25 genera worldwide

12 genera native in the Neotropics;

  • Anthodon
  • Cheiloclinium
  • Cuervea
  • Elachyptera
  • Hippocratea
  • Hylenaea
  • Peritassa
  • Prionostemma
  • Pristimera
  • Salacia
  • Semialarium
  • Tontelea

Useful tips for generic identification

Notable genera and distinguishing features


  • All genera in the Neotropics are native

Important literature

Görts-van Rijn, A. R. A. & A. M. W. Mennega. 1994. Hippocrateaceae. Fl. Guianas, Ser. A, Phanerogams, 16: 3-81.

Hallé, N. 1962. Monographie des Hippocratéacées d'Afrique occidentale. Mém. Inst. Franç. Afrique Noire 64: 1-246.

Hallé, N. 1983. Révision des Hippocrateae (Celastraceae): 3. Fruits, graines et structures placentaires. Bull. Mus. Natl. Hist. Nat., B, Adansonia 5: 11-25.

Hedin, J. P. T. 1999. Systematic studies of the Neotropical species of Salacia L. (Hippocrateaceae) and its relatives. Thesis, Washington University, Saint Louis.

Lombardi, J. A. & A. C. M. Lara. 2003 [2004]. Hippocrateaceae. Pp. 109-122 in M. G. L. Wanderley, G. J. Shepherd, T. S. Melhem, A. M. Giulietti & M. Kirizawa (eds.), Flora Fanerogâmica do Estado de São Paulo 3. FAPESP/RiMa, São Paulo.

Lombardi, J. A. 2001. Hippocrateaceae. Flora del Paraguay 36: 1-36.

Mennega, A. M. W. 1997. Wood anatomy of the Hippocrateoideae (Celastraceae). I. A. W. A. J. 18: 331-368.

Miers, J. 1872. On the Hippocrateaceae of South America. Trans. Linn. Soc. London 28: 319-432.

Peyritisch, J. 1878. Hippocrateaceae. Pp. 125-164 in C. F. P. Martius & A. G. Eichler (eds.), Flora brasiliensis 11(1). Frid. Fleischer. Lipsiae.

Simmons, M. P. 2004. Celastraceae. Pp. 29-64 in K. Kubitzki (ed.), The families and genera of vascular plants 6. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Smith, A. C. 1940. The American species of Hippocrateaceae. Brittonia 3: 341-555.

How to cite

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