Neotropical Magnoliaceae

Jon L.R. Every & Amélia Baracat

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 


Evergreen trees or shrubs, occasionally with indumentum of simple hairs, stipules large, enveloping apical bud, caducous, leaving scars around nodes. Leaves alternate, spirally arranged, simple, petiolate, entire, occasionally lobed (Liriodendron L.).  Flowers terminal, solitary, large deciduous ensheathing bracts leaving scars, actinomorphic, hermaphrodite, very rarely unisexual, showy, pedicellate; tepals numerous, petaloid, free, primarily spirally arranged in groups of three, sometimes outer whorl sepaloid; stamens numerous, free, spirally arranged on either side of enlarged receptacle, longitudinally dehiscent; gynoecium apocarpous, ovaries superior, spirally arranged centrally above enlarged receptacle, numerous, rarely reduced to one, ovules usually two, style simple, terminalFruit follicles (samaras in Liriodendron), woody, dehiscentSeed one or two, red fleshy exotesta, funicle long.

Notes on delimitation

  • Magnoliaceae sits very comfortably within the Magnoliales between Myristicaceae and Degeneriaceae along with Annonaceae, Eupomatiaceae and Himantandraceae.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Ca. 60 native species of Magnolia sensu lato. 
  • They are mainly Mexican, Brazilian and Caribbean, but also occur in Bolivia, Colombia, the Guianas, Peru and Venezuela.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Alternate, simple leaves.
  • Large deciduous furry stipules that leave scars around young branches.
  • Large eccentric, solitary flowers.
  • Swollen receptacle hosting numerous spirally arranged reproductive parts.

Other important characters

  • Entire leaf margin (lobed in Liriodendron L.) generally glaucous below.
  • Hermaphrodite flowers.
  • Indistinguishable petals and sepals.
  • Short filaments.
  • Anthers undifferentiated from filaments.
  • Aggregated follicles make up the fruit structure (samaras in Liriodendron).
  • Brightly coloured seed (except in Liriodendron).

Key differences from similar families

The families below differ from Magnoliaceae in the following characters:

Number of genera

  • In this treatment we recognize two Neotropical genera: Magnolia L. and Liriodendron

Notable genera and distinguishing features

  • See above.


  • Magnolia sensu lato (including Talauma Juss. and Dugandiodendron Lozano) is native to the Neotropics.
  • Cultivated species of both Magnolia and Liriodendron can be found throughout the Neotropics for ornamental and commercial use.

General notes

Magnoliaceae has been considered the most primitive angiosperm family due to many different reasons such as:

  • Spirally arranged and numerous flowers parts (no sign of a reduction in parts).
  • Indistinguishable perianth parts.
  • Radially symmetrical flower.
  • Cone-like appearance of the fruiting structure.
  • Its similarity with the known fossil records.

Important literature

Kawasaki, M.L. 2004.  Magnoliaceae. In: N. Smith, S. A. Mori, A. Henderson, D. W. Stevenson and S. V. Heald (eds.). Flowering Plants of the Neotropics, pp. 226-227. New York Botanical Garden & Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Lozano-C.,G. 1983.  Magnoliaceae. In: Pinto, P. (ed.). Flora de Colombia vol 1. Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota.

Nooteboom, H.P. 1993.  Magnoliaceae In: K. Kubitzki, J.G. Rohwer and V. Bittrich (eds.). Families and genera of vascular plants volume 2, pp. 391-401. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Pennington, T.D. 2004.  Illustrated guide to the trees of Peru, p.160-1. David Hunt Milbourne Port Sherbourne.

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

How to cite

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