Neotropical Sapotaceae

Terry D. Pennington

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K. 


Trees, shrubs, rarely geoxylic suffrutices, sometimes spinyLatex nearly always present in trunk, branches and fruit, usually white, rarely yellow. Indumentum of malpighiaceous hairs, rarely mixed with simple hairs.  Stipules present or absent.  Leaves spirally arranged, or alternate and distichous, less frequently opposite or verticillate, simple, entire or very rarely spinous; petiole rarely with a pair of minute stipels near base.  Inflorescence fasciculate; fascicles usually solitary, axillary, ramiflorous or cauliflorous, or occasionally several arranged along short leafless axillary shoots; fascicle bases sometimes developing into short densely scaly branchlets (brachyblasts) up to several cm long.  Flowers bisexual or unisexual (plant monoecious or dioecious; calyx a single whorl of 4-6 free or slightly fused, imbricate or quincuncial sepals, or 6-11 sepals in a closely imbricate spiral, or with 2 whorls of (2-)3-4 sepals and then outer whorl valvate or only slightly imbricate; corolla rotate, cyathiform or tubular, gamopetalous, tube shorter than, equalling or exceeding lobes; lobes 4-6(-9), entire, lobed or partly divided, or divided to base into 3 segments, median segment entire, 2 lateral segments entire, laciniate or shallowly or deeply divided; stamens 4-6(-12), fixed in corolla tube (upper or lower half) or rarely free, opposite corolla lobes, exserted or included; filaments free or partially fused to staminodes, anthers often extrorse; staminodes 0-6(-9), in a single whorl, alternating with stamens or fixed in corolla lobe sinus, simple or variously lobed, toothed, divided or sometimes petaloid; disk present as a small annulus, surrounding ovary base, or absent.  Ovary superior, 1-15-locular, loculi usually uniovulate, rarely 2(-5)-ovulate, placentation axile, basi-ventral or basal; style included or exserted; style-head simple or minutely lobedFruit a berry or less frequently a drupe, pericarp leathery or fleshySeeds 1-several, globose, broadly ellipsoid to strongly laterally compressed, testa usually smooth, shining and free from pericarp, less frequently roughened wrinkled or pitted, and then often adherent to pericarp; scar adaxial, basi-ventral or basal, narrow or broad or sometimes extending to cover most of seed.  Embryo vertical, oblique or horizontal, with thin foliaceous or thick flat or plano-convex, usually free, cotyledons, radicle included or exserted; endosperm present or absent.

Notes on delimitation

See APG website:

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Chromolucuma Ducke.: native, southern Central America, S America (Guianas to Peru).
  • Chrysophyllum L.: native, Mexico to Argentina. West Indies.
  • Diploon Cronq.: native, Venezuela to SE Brazil.
  • Ecclinusa Mart.: native, southern Central America to E Brazil.
  • Elaeoluma Baill.: native, southern Central America to Venezuela and Amazonian Brazil.
  • Manilkara Adans.: native, Mexico to SE Brazil, West Indies.
  • Micropholis (Griseb.) Pierre: native, Mexico to SE Brazil, West Indies.
  • Mimusops L: introduced, occasionally grown as a shade tree.
  • Pouteria Aubl.: native, Mexico to Argentina, West Indies.
  • Pradosia Liais.: native, southern Central America to SE Brazil.
  • Sarcaulus Radlk.: native, southern Central America to E Brazil.
  • Sideroxylon L.: native, Mexico and USA to Argentina, West Indies.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

The families listed below differ from Sapotaceae as follows:

Number of genera

  • 12 genera in the Neotropics (11 native).

Useful tips for generic identification

Key to genera of Neotropical Sapotaceae (including those introduced and naturalized).

1. Calyx of 2 whorls or (2-)3-4 sepals, outer whorl usually valvate; corolla lobes nearly always divided into 3 segments ... 2
1. Calyx a single whorl of 4-6 imbricate or quincuncial sepals, or 6-11 in a closely imbricate spiral; corolla lobes divided into 3 segments or undivided ... 3

2. Calyx of 2 whorls of (2-)3(-4) sepals; seed scar elongate, basi-ventral … Manilkara
2. Calyx of 2 whorls of 4 sepals; seed scar circular or elliptic, usually basal … Mimusops

3. Corolla lobes often divided into 3 segments; stamens exserted; staminodes present, well-developed; seed nearly always with basal or basi-ventral scar … Sideroxylon
3. Corolla lobes simple; stamens included or exserted; staminodes present, but poorly developed, or absent; seed with adaxial scar (sometimes extending around the base) ... 4

4. Stipules present, well-developed, leaving a conspicuous scar ... 5
4. Stipules absent (minute stipules present in Pouteria congestifolia) ... 6

5. Flowers sessile; staminodes absent; seed smooth, shining; scar usually narrow … Ecclinusa
5. Flowers pedicellate; staminodes present; seed with dull  rough testa; scar broad, covering up to two thirds of seed surface … Chromolucuma

6. Staminodes present, as many as the corolla lobes ... 7
6. Staminodes fewer than corolla lobes or absent ... 9

7. Leaves usually alternate and distichous; venation craspedodromous or brochidodromous, often with secondary and tertiary veins closely parallel and leaf appearing finely striate; seed laterally compressed, with endosperm … Micropholis
7. Leaves usually spirally arranged; venation variable, but not closely parallel and leaves never finely striate; seed shape variable, usually without endosperm... 8

8. Leaves spirally arranged; corolla and staminodes not carnose; stamens nearly always included; stamens and staminodes not inflexed against the style … Pouteria (major part).
8. Leaves alternate and distichous or only weakly spirally arranged; corolla tube and staminodes carnose; stamens exserted; stamens and taminodes strongly inflexed … Sarcaulus

9. Corolla tubular, campanulate or globose, stamens included ... 10
9. Corolla rotate or broadly cyathiform, stamens exserted... 11

10. Ovary usually 2-locular; embryo with plano-convex cotyledons and included radicle, endosperm absent … Pouteria (minor part)
10. Ovary usually 5-locular; embryo with thin foliaceous cotyledons, radicle exserted, copious endosperm … Chrysophyllum

11. Ovary unilocular, locule with 2 basal ovules; seed scar basal or basi-ventral … Diploon
11. Ovary 2-6-locular, loculi uniovulate, ovules axile; seed scar adaxial.

12. Leaves often opposite or verticillate, not punctate; usually cauliflorous or ramiflorous; filaments strongly narrowed below anther insertion; ovary usually 5-locular; fruit a drupe … Pradosia
12. Leaves spirally arranged, usually minutely punctate on lower surface; inflorescence mostly axillary; filaments not strongly narrowed below anther insertion; ovary 2-3(-4)-locular; fruit a berry … Elaeoluma

Notable genera and distinguishing features


  • One genus (Mimusops) introduced.  Otherwise native.

Important literature

Govaerts, R., Frodin, D.G. & Pennington, T.D. 2001. World Checklist & Bibliography of Sapotaceae, pp. 361. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Pennington, T.D. 1990. Flora Neotropica vol. 52, pp. 770. New York Botanical Garden Press, New York.

Pennington, T.D. 1991. The Genera of Sapotaceae, pp. 295.  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Pennington, T.D. 2002. Sapotaceae. In: Mori, S.A., Cremers, G., Gracie, C.A., de Granville, J.J., Heald, S.V., Hoff, M. & Mitchell, J.D. (eds.), Guide to the Vascular Plants of Central French Guiana vol. 2, pp. 669-83. New York Botanical Garden Press, New York.

Pennington, T.D. 2004. Sapotaceae. In: Smith, N., Mori, S.A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D.W. & Heald, S.V. (eds.), Flowering Plants of the Neotropics, pp. 342-344. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton.

Pennington, T.D. 2006. Sapotaceae. Flora da Reserva Ducke, Brasil. Rodriguesia 57 (2): 251-366.

Pennington, T.D. 2007. Sapotaceae. In: Harling, G. & Persson, C. (eds.), Fl. Ecuador No. 152, pp. 195. Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

Pennington, T.D. & Edwards, K.S. 2005. Sapotaceae. In: Berry, P.E., Yatskievych, K. and Holst, B.K. (eds.), Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana vol. 9, pp. 89-137. Missouri Botanical Garden, Press, St. Louis.

Pool, A. 2001. Sapotaceae. In: Stevens, W.D., C. Ulloa, A. Pool & O.M. Montiel (eds.), Flora de Nicaragua vol. 3. Monogr. Syst. Bot. Missouri Bot. Gard. 85: 2332-2354.

How to cite

Pennington, T.D. (2009). Neotropical Sapotaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgεrd, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.