Neotropical Tovariaceae

Paul J.M. Maas & Hiltje Maas-van de Kamer

National Herbarium of the Netherlands (Wageningen branch), Wageningen, the Netherlands.


Shrubs or herbs, with a penetrating smell.  Leaves alternate, trifoliolate; stipules minute.  Inflorescences terminal and axillary, elongate racemes.  Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic; sepals (6-)8(-9), free, soon falling; petals (6-)8(-9), free, shortly clawed, green to yellow; stamens (6-)8(-9), filaments sometimes hairy at the base, anthers dithecal, longitudinally dehiscent, basifixed; disc present; gynophore very short or absent; ovary superior, (4-)6(-8)-locular, style 1, very short or absent, stigma (4-)6(-8)-rayed, spreading, placentation axile, ovules many, campylotropous.  Fruits berries.  Seeds many, small.

Notes on delimitation

  • The Tovariaceae are placed in the order Brassicales by the APG system (Stevens, 2008; APG III, 2009).
  • In the past the family has often been included Capparaceae, and in Cronquist (1981) and Takhtajan (2009) the family was placed in the order Capparales.

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • A monogeneric family restricted to the Neotropics.
  • Tovaria Ruiz & Pav. (1-2 spp.)  T. pendula Ruiz & Pav. common, in disturbed habitats such as roadsides and landslides in montane areas to 3,000 m, from Mexico in the North to Bolivia in the South; T. diffusa (Macfad.) Fawc. & Rendle in Jamaica, doubtfully distinct from T. pendula.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Shrubs or herbs, with a penetrating smell.
  • Leaves alternate, trifoliolate.
  • Inflorescences elongate racemes.
  • Flowers usually with 8 sepals, petals, and stamens.
  • Fruits: berries with many, small seeds.

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

Closest to Capparaceae (incl. Cleomaceae) and Brassicaceae. The differences among the three families are:

1.  Gynophore present; petals 4; stamens 4-many (all of the same length); stigma 1; fruit a capsule, berry, or drupe …. Capparaceae (incl. Cleomaceae)
1.  Gynophore absent or very short (<1 mm long); petals (6-)8(-9); stamens (6-)8(-9) (all of the same length); stigma (4-)6(-8)-rayed, spreading; fruit a berry …. Tovariaceae
1.  Gynophore absent; petals 4; stamens 6 (unequal: 4 long and 2 short); stigmas 2; fruit a siliqua.... Brassicaceae

Number of genera

  • One genus restricted to the Neotropics, Tovaria (1-2 species).


  • Tovaria is native in the Neotropics.
  • The genus is not cultivated and not of any economic importance.

Important literature

Andersson, L. 1995. Tovariaceae. In Harling, G. & Andersson, L. Flora of Ecuador 52: 17-20.

A.P.G. III. 2009. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Bot. J. Linnean Soc. 161: 105-121.

Appel, O. & Bayer, C. 2003. Tovariaceae. In: Kubitzki, K. & Bayer, C. (eds.).The families and genera of vascular plants, vol.  5. Flowering Plants -Dicotyledons. Malvales, Capparales and Non-betalain Caryophyllales, pp. 397-399. Springer Verlag, Berlin, etc.

Maas, P.J.M. & Westra, L.Y.Th. 2005. Neotropical Plant Families. A concise guide of vascular plants in the Neotropics. 3rd ed., p. 223. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag K.G., Ruggell.

Nee, M. 2004. Tovariaceae. In: Smith, N.P., Mori, S.A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D.W., and Heald, S.V. (eds.). Flowering plants of the Neotropics. pp. 376-377. Princeton University Press, Oxford and Princeton.

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

Takhtajan, A. 1997. Flowering Plants. Second edition. Springer Verlag, Berlin.

How to cite

Maas, P.J.M. & Maas-van de Kamer, H. (2012). Neotropical Tovariaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.