Neotropical Lepidobotryaceae

Jon L.R. Every

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 


Dioecious, evergreen trees, bark with bitter taste, sparse indumentum of small simple trichomes. Leaves alternate, distichous, pulvinate, unifoliolate; stipule and stipel present, very fugacious, leaving scars; lamina chartaceous, entire, venation pinnate. Inflorescences terminal (appearing leaf opposed), congested, of spicate panicles, small bracts present at base, peduncle puberulous. Flowers minute, greenish, bracteolate, sessile, cryptically unisexual, male flowers with rudimentary ovules, female flowers with anthers without pollen, actinomorphic; calyx with 5, free, imbricate sepals, ciliate; corolla with 5 free, imbricate petals, apically ciliate; stamens 10 in two whorls, ± connate basally, free of perianth, antepetalous stamens have long filaments, antesepalous ± sessile (no free part), anthers basifixed, dehiscing lengthways, filaments fused into a nectary tube (more conspicuous in male flowers); ovary superior, 2-carpellate, 2 locules, 2 ovules per carpel, stylodia short or sessile. Fruit capsular, coriaceous or woody, ovoid, septicidal, dehiscing irregularly, endocarp distinct, columella persisting, 2 horny endocarps, one nearly completely surrounding seed and in shape of a snail shell, other usually empty and smaller, caducous; seed one rarely two, black with reddish-orange aril.

Notes on delimitation

  • Member of the Celastrales (APG 2, 2003).
  • Sister group of a clade containing Celastraceae and Parnassiaceae (Zhang & Simmons, 2006).

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Scattered throughout Neotropics south to Peru.
  • Lowland primary forest on well-drained soils, from sea level to 400 metres altitude.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

  • Stipels and stipules quickly falling.

Key differences from similar families

The familes below differ from Lepidobotryaceae in possessing the following characters:





  • Fused sepals.
  • Unicarpellate.
  • Fruits legumes.
  • Seeds exarillate.


Number of genera

  • One genus in the New World (Ruptiliocarpon Hammel & N. Zamora), with one species - Ruptiliocarpon caracolito Hammel & N. Zamora.
  • The other genus in Lepidobotryaceae is the monotypic Lepidobotrys (L. staudtii Engl. and restricted to tropical Africa.

General notes

  • Known locally in Costa Rica as Cedro caracolito, a reference to the horny endocarp shaped like a macaroni shell.
  • Takes its Latin name from the Latin for irregularly splitting (= ruptilis) and the Greek for fruit< /A> (= carpon).

Important literature

APG 2. 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 141: 399-436

Hammel, B.E. & Smith, N. 2004. Lepidobotryaceae. In: Smith, N., Mori, S. A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D. W. & Heald, S. V. (eds). Flowering Plants of the Neotropics. pp. 213-4. The New York Botanical Garden, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Hammel, B.E. & Zamora, N. 1993. Ruptiliocarpon (Lepidobotryaceae): A new arborescent genus and tropical American link to Africa, with a reconsideration of the family. Novon 3: 408-417.

Heywood, V.H. 2007. Lepidobotryaceae. In: V.H. Heywood, R.K. Brummitt, A. Culham & O. Seberg (eds). Flowering plant families of the world, pp. 191-2. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kubitzki, K. 2004. Lepidobotryaceae. In Kubitzki, K. (ed.), amilies and genera of vascular plants vol. 6. Flowering plants. Dicotyledons. pp. 233-5.  Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Maas, P. J. M. & Westra, L. Y. Th. 2005. Neotropical Plant Families. 3rd ed. p. 164. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag K.G., Ruggell.

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

Tobe, H. & Hammel, B. 1993. Floral morphology, embryology and seed anatomy of Ruptiliocarpon caracolito (Lepidobotryaceae). Novon 3: 423-428.

Watson, L. and M. J. Dallwitz (1992 onwards). The Families of Flowering Plants: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. Version: 14th December 2000.

Zhang, L & Simmons, M. P. 2006. Phylogeny and delimitation of the Celastrales inferred from nuclear and plastid genes. Systematic Botany 31(1): 122-137.

How to cite

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