Neotropical Lauraceae

Andre S. Chanderbali

University of Florida, Gainville, USA. 


Trees or shrubs, with one twining hemiparasitic herb (Cassytha Osb. ex L.); typically aromatic in all parts. Leaves simple, entire; exstipulate; alternate, rarely opposite or whorled; usually penninerved but often 3-veined. Inflorescences axillary, paniculate, thyrsoid, racemose, pseudo-umbellate. Flowers actinomorphic, small; trimerous, rarely dimerous or irregular, bisexual or unisexual, perigynous with a shallow to deeply cup-shaped receptacle; perianth of whorls of (sub)equal tepals, outer whorl occasionally ½ to ¼ smaller; tepals typically pale, yellowish, greenish, or whitish; erect, spreading, reflexed, rarely inflexed; stamens usually nine in three whorls (3-12, rarely more), inner with a pair of glands at base; anthers 2- or 4-locular, dehiscing by valves, outer two whorls introrse, inner stamens extrorse; one whorl of apically glandular staminodes internal to fertile stamens; rarely fertile or lacking. Ovary superior; stigma tri-lobed, discoid or reniform. Fruits fleshy, rarely woody, single-seeded berries typically seated in an enlarged receptacle or cupule. Cupules usually hemispherical, occasionally flat, rarely reflexed.

Notes on delimitation

  • The Lauraceae are a clearly monophyletic group firmly nested in the order Laurales of the magnoliid clade of angiosperms.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Distributed from Mexico to Argentina in lowland and montane forests throughout Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Anthers dehiscing by apically hinged valves.

Other important characters

  • Fruits are blackish-blue berries seated in red hemispherical cupules.
  • Scent of bay leaves, often much stronger to pungent.

Key differences from similar families

  • The hemiparasitic Cassytha is often confused from Cuscuta L. (Convolulaceae) and flowers must be consulted to distinguish the two. The Lauraceae are otherwise not easily confused with other families.
  • Valvate anthers occur also in Berberidaceae, which are small spiny shrubs of high altitudes in the Neotropics.

Number of genera

27 genera in the Neotropics, of which Ocotea and Nectandra are the largest with more than 300 and 100 species, respectively.

  • Aiouea Aubl.
  • Anaueria Kosterm.
  • Aniba Aubl.
  • Beilschmiedia Nees
  • Caryodaphnopsis Airy Shaw
  • Cassytha Osb. ex L.
  • Chlorocardium Rohwer, H.G. Richter & van der Werff
  • Cinnamomum Schaeffer
  • Cryptocarya R. Br.
  • Dicypellium Nees & Mart.
  • Endlicheria Nees
  • Kubitzkia van der Werff.
  • Licaria Aubl.
  • Litsea Lam.
  • Mezilaurus Kuntze ex Taubert.
  • Mocinnodaphne Lorea-Hernández
  • Nectandra Rolander ex Rottb.
  • Ocotea Aubl.
  • Paraia Rohwer, H.G. Richter & van der Werff.
  • Persea Mill.
  • Phyllostemonodaphne Kosterm.
  • Pleurothyrium Nees
  • Povedadaphne Burger
  • Rhodostemonodaphne Rohwer & Kubitzki
  • Sextonia van der Werff
  • Urbanodendron Mez
  • Williamodendron Kubitzki & H.G. Richter

Useful tips for generic identification

Key to the Latin American Genera of Lauraceae

Notable genera and distinguishing features

  • Ocotea: nine stamens with four-locular anthers; the locules arranged in superimposed pairs; flowers bisexual or unisexual.
  • Nectandra: nine stamens with four-locular anthers; the locules arranged in a shallow arc; flowers bisexual.
  • Rhodostemonodaphne: nine stamens with four-locular anthers; the locules arranged in a shallow arc; flowers unisexual.
  • Aniba: nine stamens with two-locular anthers; flowers bisexual. Cupule hemispherical.
  • Endlicheria: nine stamens with two-locular anthers; flowers unisexual.
  • Licaria: only inner three stamens fertile; two-locular anthers; flowers bisexual. Cupules with double-margins.
  • Cryptocarya: nine stamens with two-locular anthers; flowers bisexual. Cupule enclosing the fruit.
  • Beilschmiedia: nine stamens with two-locular anthers; flowers bisexual. Cupule absent.


  • Native to the Neotropics.

General notes

  • The avocado, Persea americana Mill., is widely cultivated.
  • Several Lauraceae are important sources of timber, e.g. Chlorocardium (Greenheart).

Important literature

Chanderbali, A. S.. 2004. Endlicheria (Lauraceae). Flora Neotropica Monograph 91, New York Botanical Garden Press, New York. 141 pp.

Madriñan, S. 2004. Rhodostemonodaphne (Lauraceae).  Flora Neotropica Monograph 92, New York Botanical Garden Press, New York. 102 pp.

Nishida, S. 1999. Revision of Beilschmiedia (Lauraceae) in the Neotropics. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 86: 657-701.

Rohwer, J. G. 1993. Nectandra (Lauraceae). Flora Neotropica Monograpg 60, New York Botanical Garden Press, New York, New York. 332 pp.

Van der Werff, H. 1991. A key to the genera of Lauraceae in the New World. Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 78: 377-387.

How to cite

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