Neotropical Illiciaceae

Jon L.R. Every

University of Plymouth, U.K. 


Evergreen trees and shrubs. Leaves alternate, spirally arranged, bunched together at ends of branches, simple, entire, leathery, pellucid gland dots present or not, essential oil cells emitting 'peppery' scent, venation pinnate; estipulate; swelling present at base of petiole. Flowers solitary or inflorescence of 2-3 flowers, axillary or subterminal, bisexual, ebracteate, regularly symmetrical, perianth parts (7-)12(-33), free, outer whorl bract- or sepal-like intergrading through petaloid tepals into stamens; stamens 4-50, free of perianth, staminodes present or absent, filaments short, thick, anthers basifixed, dehiscing via longitudinal slits; ovary superior, carpels 8-12(-21), apocarpic, locules 8-12, ovules 1 per carpel; styles 8-12, stigmas adaxially decurrent along upper half of each carpel. Fruit a single follicle or in star-like aggregates of <13. Seed one per follicle, shiny, dehiscing explosively along adaxial suture.

Notes on delimitation

  • Placed in the order Austrobaileyales by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APGIII).
  • A member of the ANITA grade (the basal group of angiosperms) along with Amborellaceae, Nymphaeaceae, Trimeniaceae, and Austrobailaceae.
  • The Schisandraceae, sometimes treated as a separate family of woody climbers, is included here .

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Moist forests of Cuba, Hispaniola, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Peppery-tasting leaves.
  • Flowers apocarpous.
  • Follicular fruits.
  • Explosively dehiscent seeds.

Other important characters

  • Variable quantities and shapes and sizes of perianth parts.

Key differences from similar families

  • Similar to Drimys Forst., a member of the Winteraceae which differ in having monocarpic fruits, cymose inflorescences and glaucous abaxial leaf surfaces.

Number of genera

  • Illicium L.:  about six species including I. cubense A. C. Sm., I. parviflorum Michx, I. floridanum J. Ellis, I. mexicanum A. C. Sm., I. ekmanii A. C. Sm.and I. hottense A. Guerrero, Judd & A.B. Morris.
  • Schisandra Michx.: a mainly Asian genus of c. 20 species, with one species, S. glabra (Brickell)Rehder recorded from SE U.S.A. and eastern Mexico. 


  • Native group of disjunct, mainly Asian species.

Important literature

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 161(3): 105-121.

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

Utteridge, T.M.A. & Brummitt R.K. 2007. Illiciaceae. In:  V.H. Heywood, R.K. Brummitt, A. Culham and O. Seberg (eds.). Flowering Plant Families of the world. Pp. 173 - 4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Smith, N. & Lin, Q. 2004. Illiciaceae. In: Smith, N., Mori, S.A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D.W. and Heald, S.V. (eds.). Flowering Plants of the Neotropics. Pp 193-194. The New York Botanical Garden, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

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

How to cite

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