Neotropical Moringaceae

Jon L.R. Every

University of Plymouth, U.K. 


Woody, deciduous trees; rootstocks tuberous. Leaves alternate, compound, 3-pinnate; leaflets entire in 4-6 pairs, ovate, elliptic, or oblong, glabrous at maturity; stipules glandular at base of petiole and leaflets. Inflorescence axillary panicles, bracteate. Flowers bisexual; sepals 5, lanceolate to linear-lanceolate, usually puberulent; petals 5, free, spatulate; stamens 5, free from and opposite corolla members, hairy at base, staminodes 5 alternating with stamens, filaments encircling disk, anthers dorsifixed, dehiscing via full-length slits; ovary superior, syncarpous, hairy, gynophore present, carpels 3, locule 1, ovules numerous, style 1, hollow, stigma minute. Fruit a capsule, woody, 3-valved. Seeds numerous, 3-angled, wings 0.5-1 cm wide (rarely absent).

Notes on delimitation

  • Currently placed within the Brassicales (APGIII).

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Arid areas, recorded in the Caribbean, parts of Central America and Mexico.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

  • Leaflets in 4 - 6 pairs, puberulous when young and glabrous at maturity.
  • Sepals usually puberulent.
  • Seeds often winged.

Key differences from similar families

  • Can be distinguished from the Papilionoideae of the Leguminosae which have (9-)10(-many) stamens.
  • The flowers of Moringa resemble 'inverted' pea flowers with 2 dorsal sepals and 1 dorsal petal usually remaining unreflexed and forming a projecting "keel", while the rest of the perianth reflexes down to form a "banner" at right angles to the "keel" (Lianli & Olson 2001).

Number of genera

  • One: Moringa Rheede ex Adans.(introduced).


  • No native genera.

General notes

  • M. oleifera Lamark is cultivated for its many uses especially as a high vitamin leaf crop.

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.

Culham, A.C. 2007. Moringaceae. In:  V.H. Heywood, R.K. Brummitt, A. Culham and O. Seberg (eds.). Flowering Plant Families of the World. Pp 173-174. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Lianli, L., and M.E. Olson. 2001. Moringaceae. In: Raven, P.H., I. Al-Shehbaz, and G. Zhu, (eds.). Flora of China vol. 8: 196. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.

Mabberley, D.J. 2008. Mabberley's plant book. Third edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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

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