Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.
Small trees or shrubs. Leaves alternate, simple, with entire or serrate/dentate margins, usually aromatic, containing pellucid punctuations and commonly with an indumentum of simple hairs and peltate, glandular scales; stipules absent. Inflorescences borne in the leaf axils in catkins. Flowers unisexual, perianth absent, subtended by bracts. Male flowers with 2-8 (-20) stamens (most commonly 4), anthers basifixed and dehiscing by longitudinal slits. Female flowers with syncarpous gynoecium (2 carpels), 2 (occasionally 3) stigmas, superior 1-locular ovary. Fruit a one-seeded drupe or nutlet, sometimes enclosed in bracteoles and sometimes covered in a whitish waxy layer.
Notes on delimitation
- According to morphological and molecular analyses, the Myricaceae are closely affiliated to the Juglandaceae and fall within the Fagales (though sometimes considered in an order of their own - Myricales).
Distribution in the Neotropics
- Distributed throughout the Neotropics.
- Mainly in montane and submontane forests and páramo grasslands.
- Commonly on boggy ground.
- Sometimes in disturbed habitats.
Distinguishing characters (always present)
- Alternate, variably serrate leaves with pellucid punctuations and peltate scales (giving characteristic yellow gland -dotted appearance). No stipules.
- Inferior ovary; male and female flowers borne on catkins with no perianth.
Other important characters
- Fruit surface often tuberculate and sometimes coated with a waxy substance.
- Leaves often aromatic.
- Twigs usually strongly ridged.
Key differences from similar families
The Myricaceae could potentially be confused with other members of the Fagales, but differ from them in the following characters:
- From Fagaceae - drupaceous fruits; superior ovary; absence of perianth; glands and punctuations in leaves.
- From Betulaceae - drupaceous fruits; absence of stipules; superior ovary.
- From Juglandaceae - simple leaves; superior ovary.
- From Ticodendraceae - lack of stipules; pellucid punctuations in leaves; superior ovary.
- It is conceivable that in a vegetative state this family could be confused with Theaceae (which may also have serrate, punctuate leaves), but Theaceae punctuations are dark, even in bud, rather than pellucid.
Number of genera
- Traditionally only one genus in the Neotropics (Myrica L.), but taxonomists have recently reassigned the American species to the genus Morella Lour. (Parra-O, 2002)
Useful tips for generic identification
- A key to the South American species of Morella (including all previously assigned to Myrica) is given by Parra-O (2002).
- As in other parts of the world, the wax that coats the fruits of these plants has been exploited in the past for candle manufacture (removed by boiling).
- Nitrogen-fixing nodules are usually present in the roots, apparently helping to provide a competitive advantage in boggy areas.
Manos, P. S. & Steele, K. P. 1997. Phylogenetic analyses of 'higher' Hamamelididae based on plastid sequence data. Amer. J. Bot. 84:1407-1419.
Parra-O, C. 2002. New combinations in South American Myrica. Brittonia 54(4): 322-326.
Roberts, A.S. 2004. Myricaceae, pp. 259-261. In: Smith, N., Mori, S.A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D.W. and Heald, S.V. (eds.). Flowering Plants of the Neotropics, p. 316. The New York Botanical Garden, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
How to cite
Milliken, W. (2009). Neotropical Myricaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics. http://www.kew.org/science/tropamerica/neotropikey/families/Myricaceae.htm.
Click images to enlarge
Waxy coating on fruit of Myrica microcarpa (Smith & Godman 1279, St Vincent) © William Milliken, RBG, Kew.
Myrica picardae (von Turckheim 3117, Santo Domingo) © William Milliken, RBG, Kew.
Inflorescences of Myrica picardae (von Turckheim 3117, Santo Domingo) © William Milliken, RBG, Kew.
Myrica pubescens (Stork & Horton 10345, Peru) © William Milliken, RBG, Kew.
Inflorescence of Myrica pubescens (Stork & Horton 10345, Peru) © William Milliken, RBG, Kew.
Fruit of Myrica pubescens (Stork & Horton 10345, Peru) © William Milliken, RBG, Kew.
Myrica xapalensis (Pringle 10009, Mexico) © William Milliken, RBG, Kew.