Neotropical Pellicieraceae

Sara Louise Edwards

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 


Mangrove trees to 15m tall, 15-20cm in diameter (above buttresses). Trunks with enlarged fluted boles, buttresses 1.5-2m tall (average high tide level), 1.5m in diameter, formed by the emergence of short-born roots. Leaves spirally arranged, clustered at apex of branches; blades sessile, simple, slightly asymmetric, oblanceolate, margins entire with deciduous glands along longest edge, pair of glands at base of leaf, coriaceous; veins obscure; stipules absent. Flowers solitary, in leaf axils or terminal, sessile; bracteoles 2, subtending and enveloping flower bud, pink; sepals 5, free, ovate, adaxially concave, proximal half of adaxial surface covered in glands; petals 5, free, narrow, elongate, dehiscent, white to pinkish red; stamens 5, appressed to longitudinal grooves of ovary, just surpassing style; anthers 5, basally sagittate, narrow; ovary superior, carpels 2, syncarpous, locules 2 (sometimes 1 by abortion), 1 ovule per locule, placentation axile; style longitudinally grooved, stigma barely bifid. Fruit indehiscent, woody, turbinate, corrugated, strongly beaked, covered with resinous pustules; seed 1, endosperm absent, embryo enlarged, well developed.

Notes on delimitation

  • Pelliciera Planch. & Triana has in the past been placed in the Theaceae or Ternstroemiaceae.
  • Currently it is either regarded as being a family in its own right or merged with the Tetrameristaceae sensu lato (Lens et al., 2005).
  • Pelliciera and Tetrameristaceae both have unusual glandular pits on the inner surface of the sepals and one single ovule per locule (Cronquist, 1981). The wood anatomy studies have also found them to be closely related (Lens et al., 2005).

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Pelliciera rhizophorae Planch. & Triana is mostly restricted to the Pacific coast of Central America and northern South America, from the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica to the Esmeraldas river, Ecuador.
  • A few scattered populations on the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Key differences from similar families

While it may be confused with Tetramesitaceae to which it is closely related, characteristic features of Pelliciera are:

Number of genera

  • Monogeneric and monospecific: Pelliciera rhizophorae Planch. & Triana


  • Native.

Important literature

Castillo-Cárdenas, M.F., Toro-Perea, N. and Cárdenas-Henao, H.. 2005. Population Genetic Structure of Neotropical Mangrove Species on the Colombian Pacific Coast: Pelliciera rhizophorae (Pellicieraceae). Biotropica 37(2): 266-273.

Collins, J.P., Berkelhamer, R.C. and Mesler, M.. 1977. Notes on the Natural History of the Mangrove Pelliciera rhizophorae Tr. & Pl. (Theaceae). Brenesia 10/11: 17-29.

Cronquist, A. 1981. An integrated system of the classification of flowering plants. Colombia University Press, New York.

Frame, D. 2004. Pellicieraceae. In: N. Smith, S.A. Mori, A. Henderson, D.W. Stevenson and S.V. Head (eds.), Flowering Plant of the Neotropics, pp. 289-290. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Fuchs, H.P. 1970. Echological and palynological notes on Pelliciera rhizophorae. Acta Bot.Neerl. 19: 884-94.

Gentry, A.H. 1996. A field Guide to the families and genera of woody plants of Northwest South America. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Jiménez, J.A. 1984. A hypothesis to explain the reduced distribution of the mangrove Pelliciera rhizophorae Tr. & Pl. Biotropica 16: 304-08.

Lens, F. Dressler, S. Jansen, S., Van Evelghem, F. and Smets, E. 2005. Relationships within balsaminoid Ericales: a wood anatomical approach. American Journal of Botany. 92: 941-953.

How to cite

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