Neotropical Myrsinaceae

Luís C. Bernacci

IAC - Instituto Agronômico, Campinas, Brazil. 


Trees, treelets to shrubs or subshrubs, herbs or epiphytes; leaves, flowers and fruit with secretory cavities appearing as dark dots or dashes.  Leaves simple, alternate, subopposite, opposite or pseudowhorled; blades often coriaceous, margins entire to variously serrate, stipules absent; petioles usually short, occasionally absent.  Inflorescences terminal or axillary; racemes, panicles to simple or compound corymbs, fascicles or verticils, or solitary flowers.  Flowers bisexual or unisexual, with staminodes (on pistillate flowers) and pistillodes (on staminate flowers); partially connate sepals and petals, rarely petals free, epipetalous, distinct or connate stamens, and connate carpels (3) 4-5 (6); anthers dehiscing by longitudinal slits to pores; ovary superior, with free -central placentation; ovules few to several.  Fruit a single-seeded drupe or a valved or opercular capsule with few to many seeds.

Notes on delimitation

  • Historically the Myrsinaceae has usually been included in the order Primulales near the Primulaceae and Theophrastaceae.
  • Recent phylogenetic studies suggest, however, that Myrsinaceae is resolved in the Ericales, closely related to groups within the Primulaceae.  At present, the Myrsinaceae includes the genera Anagallis, Cyclamen, Lysimachia and Pelletiera which were previously considered to belong to the Primulaceae.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Anagallis L. - southern South America (including naturalised species).
  • Ardisia Sw.- more diverse in southern Central American than in South America.
  • Ctenardisia  Ducke - few species in Central and South America.
  • Cybianthus Mart. - mostly middle-elevation cloud forests but also in Chocó and lowland Amazonia.
  • Geissanthus Hook.f. - Andean.
  • Gentlea Lundell - restricted to cloud and elfin forests.
  • Grammadenia Benth. - Caribbean Island and northwestern South America.
  • Heberdenia Banks ex DC. - one species in Mexico.
  • Lysimachia L. - one species of western Peruvian Andes.
  • Parathesis (DC.) Hook.f. - Caribbean Island and northwestern South America.
  • Rapanea Aubl. - typical of middle-elevation forests especially in rather exposed situations.
  • Solonia Urb. - monotypic species of Cuba.
  • Synardisia (Mez) Lundell - one species Mexico to Nicaragua.
  • Wallenia Sw. - Caribbean Islands.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Leaves, flowers and fruit with secretory cavities, appearing as dark dots or lines.
  • Stamens (or staminodes) epipetalous.
  • Ovary syncarpous, superior, locule 1, with free -central placentation.
  • Style 1.

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

  • In the Neotropics, the Myrsinaceae differs of the Theophrastaceae for absences of the appendages (probably staminodes) inserted on corolla, alternating with petal lobes or for semi-inferior ovary (Samolus traditionally includes in Primulaceae) and of the Primulaceae (Primula, exclusively cultivated in Neotropics) for scapose inflorescence and flower commonly with heterostyly.

Number of genera

14 native genera and one genus exclusively cultivated: 

  • Anagallis L.(including naturalised species).
  • Ardisia Sw. (including Stylogyne and others segregrate genera, many of which have not been accepted).
  • Ctenardisia Ducke.
  • Cybianthus Mart.
  • Cyclamen L. (cultivated).
  • Geissanthus Hook.
  • Gentlea Lundell
  • Grammadenia Benth.
  • Heberdenia Banks ex A. DC.
  • Parathesis (A. DC. ) Hook.
  • Pelletiera A. St-Hil.
  • Rapanea Aubl.
  • Solonia Urb.
  • Synardisia (Mez.) Lundell
  • Wallenia Sw. 

Useful tips for generic identification

  • Habit (epiphytes, herbs, trees or shrubs).
  • Disposition of leaves.
  • Type of inflorescences.
  • Petals: free or partially connate.
  • Fusion and insertion of filaments.
  • Anthers exserted or included.
  • Type and texture of the corolla.
  • Imbrication of the calyx (regular or irregular).
  • Imbrication of the corolla (valved or imbricated).

Key to genera of neotropical Myrsinaceae.

1. Epiphytes; leaves very narrow, sessile, leaf apices mucronateGrammadenia
1. Not epiphytes; leaves not like above … 2

2. Herbs; flowers solitary ... 3
2. Trees to shrubs; flowers in inflorescences ... 4

3. Leaves opposite; seeds not wingedAnagallis
3. Leaves alternate; seeds wingedLysimachia

4. Flower in fascicles or verticils … Rapanea
4. Flowers not in fascicles or verticils … 5

5. Petals free … 6
5. Petals partially connate... 7

6. Filaments united (Mexico) … Heberdenia
6. Filaments free (Cuba) … Solonia

7. Exserted anthers (filaments longer than the corolla) … 8
7. Included anthers (filaments shorter than the corolla) … 9

8. Tubular coriaceous corolla, remains of styles not persistent on fruit (Caribbean) … Wallenia
8. Not tubular and not coriaceous corolla, remains of long styles persistent on fruit (cloud and elfin forests) … Gentlea

9. Plants with long glandular trichomes, campanulate corollaSynardisia
9. Plants without glandular trichomes, not campanulate corolla … 10

10. Umbellate clusters of flowers arranged in panicles … Ctenardisia
10. Others kinds of inflorescences … 11

11. Calyx closed in bud, irregularly rupturing into 2-7 lobes (also visible in fruit) … Geissanthus
11. Calyx regularly divided … 12

12. Valvate perianthParathesis
12. Imbricate perianth … 13

13. Filaments partially united at base, free portion of filaments originating from near the middle of the corolla (sometimes filaments completely fused to the corolla); inflorescence generally racemose … Cybianthus
13. Filaments free, inserted near the base of the corolla, inflorescence usually in corymb or panicleArdisia

Notable genera and distinguishing features

  • Ardisia: shrubs and small trees.  The inflorescence is paniculate, the lateral branches with the usually 5-parted flowers arranged in glomerules or cymes, typically more or less umbellate to much reduced ramiflorous inflorescence. The stamens are always included, the anthers rather long, and the filaments usually short.  Commonest in middle-elevation cloud forests and more diverse in southern Central American than in South America.
  • Cybianthus: from small subshrubs to subcanopy trees, with racemose inflorescence, sometimes slightly branched at the apex, corolla rotate or tabulate.
  • Rapanea: Small trees typical of middle-elevation forests especially in rather exposed situations.  Distinctive in the sessile axillary and ramiflorus flowers, typically densely clustered along the twigs below the leaves on suppressed short-shoots.
  • Parathesis: shrubs and small trees.  Frequently the branchlets and lower leaf surface near midrid have stellate pubescence.  The flowers, always 4-merous, have unusually large yellow anthers and are always in panicles with valvate perianth and densely pubescent calyx and petals. The fruit is distinctive in being ribbed and is also characterized by the pubescent persistent calyx lobes.


  • Native, naturalised (weeds) and cultivated.

General notes

  • Very little is known about the reproductive biology of the family.  Most species seem to be pollinated by insects, and the fuits are usually dispersed by birds.  Autogamy has been documented in Ardisia and may occur in other genera as well.
  • The family is of little economic importance.  Locally, the wood of several species is used for rustic construction (fencing) and as fuel (wood/charcoal), and fruit with thick mesocarps are often eaten.
  • Species of Ardisia, Cyclamen, Lysimachia and Rapanea are cultivated as ornamental plants, including trees.
  • Some species of Anagallis are introduced weeds.  In other regions of world some species are used in folk medicine.

Important literature

Agostini, G. 1980.  Una nueva classificación del género Cybianthus (Myrsinaceae). Acta Bot. Venez. 10(2): 129-185.

Anderberg, A.A. & Stahl, B.1995. Phylogenetic interrelations in the order Primulales, with special emphasis on the family circumscriptions. Canad.J.Bot.73: 1699-730.

Bernacci, L.C. & Jung-Mendaçolli, S.L. 2001.  Considerações taxonômicas e novas combinações em Ardisia Swartz (Myrsinaceae) do Sudeste do Brasil. Acta Bot. Bras. 14(3): 243-250.

Freitas, M.F. 2003. Estudos taxonômicos das espécies de Myrsine L. (Myrsinaceae) nas regiões sudeste e sul do Brasil. Tese de Doutorado. UNICAMP.

Jung-Mendaçolli, S.L. 2005.  Myrsinaceae. In: Wanderley, M.G.L. (ed.). Flora Fanerogâmica do Estado de São Paulo. São Paulo, Rima, vol. 4, p. 279-300.

Kallersjo, M. et al. 2000. Generic realignment in primuloid families of the Ericales s.l. (Angiosperms): a phylogenetic analysis based on DNA sequences of rbcl and ndhF. Amer.J.Bot.87: 1325-1341.

Lourteig, A. 1942. Primulaceae argentinae. Lilloa 8: 231-67.

Lourteig, A. 1967. Primuláceas. In: P.R.Reitz (ed.), Flora ilustrada Catarinense, Pp. 1-17. Itajaí, Brasil: Herbario "Barbosa Rodrigues".

Lundell, C.L. 1966a. Myrsinaceae. In: P.C.Standley & L.O.Williams (eds.), Flora of Guatemala, Fieldiana Bot. 24(8): 135-200.

Lundell, C.L. 1966b. The genus Parathesis of the Myrsinaceae. Contr.Texas Res. Found., Bot.Stud. 5: 1-06.

Lundell, C.L. 1971. Myrsinaceae. In: Woodson, R.E. (ed.), Flora of Panama. Ann.Missouri Bot.Gard. 58: 285-353.

Otegui, M. 1998.  Sinopsis del género Myrsine (Myrsinaceae) en el cono sur de América del Sur. Candollea 53(1): 133-157.

Pipoly, J.J. 1987.  A systematic revision of genus Cybianthus subgen. Gramnadenia (Myrsinaceae). Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 43: 1-75.

Pipoly, J.J. 1991.  Notas sobre el género Ardisia Sw. en Colombia. Caldasia 16(78): 277-284.

Pipoly, J.J. 1992. The genus Cybianthus (Myrsinaceae) in Ecuador and Peru. Sida 18: 1-160.

Pipoly, J.J. 1993.  Notes on Cybianthus subgenus Cybianthus (Myrsinaceae) in southeasten Brazil. Novon 3(4): 459-462.

Pipoly, J.J. 1996.  New species of Ardisia (Myrsinaceae) from Ecuador and Peru. Sida 17(2): 445-458.

Pipoly, J.J. 1998.  The genus Cybianthus (Myrsinaceae) in Ecuador and Peru. Sida 18(1): 1-60.

Ribeiro et al. 1999.  Flora da Reserva Ducke. Guia de identificaçao deas plantas vasculares de uma floresta de terra-firme na Amazonia Central.  INPA, Manaus.

Ricketson, J.M. & Pipoly, J.J. 1997.  Nomenclatural notes and a synopsis of Mesoamerican Stylogyne (Myrsinaceae). Sida 17(3): 591-597.

Ståhl, B.1990. Primulaceae. In: G. Harling & L. Andersson (eds.), Flora of Ecuador vol. 39: 23-35. Goteborg, Sweden: Department of Systematic Botany, University of Goteborg.

Stearn, W.T. 1969. A synopsis of Jamaican Myrsinaceae. Bull.Brit.Mus.(Nat.Hist.)Bot. 4: 145-78.

How to cite

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