Neotropical Vitaceae

Julio Antonio Lombardi

Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho, São Paulo, Brazil. 


Lianas or rarely shrubs; rhaphides usually present in all parts, roots sometimes adventitious (many Cissus L.); stems rarely forming aerial tubers (some Cissus), or short, woody and subterranean (some shrubby species), sometimes with hard or soft emergences; tendrils usually present, leaf-opposed, with 0 or more branches, adhesive discs sometimes present. Pearl-glands present (many Cissus). Stipules present, usually small, caducous, sometimes persistent, rarely transformed into turgid spines, sometimes forming dilated structure embracing entire node. Leaves alternate, simple or compound. Inflorescences leaf-opposed or terminal, rarely axillary, cymose with a central flower terminating each axil, or racemose without terminal flowers, sometimes with 1-2 tendril-like branches; bract and bracteole small, sometimes nectar secreting, the bract subtending each branch. Flowers actinomorphic, small, bisexual, sometimes unisexual (plants monecious or polygamous, and flowers functionally staminate, some Ampelocissus Planch. and Vitis L.); flower buds ellipsoid, oval, or conical, sometimes spherical or cylindrical; sepals 4-5, fused, calyx usually truncate, rounded, or rarely lobed (some Cissus) at base; petals 4-5, valvate, distinct or connate at base, or distally coherent and calyptra-like (Vitis), caducous at anthesis, rarely persistent (some Cissus); androecium with 4-5 stamens, minute, distinct; intrastaminal disc present, adnate to ovary (Cissus and Ampelocissus), free and ring-like (Ampelopsis Rich.), of separated glands (Vitis), or absent (Parthenocissus Planch.), sometimes the outer border projected above, forming small cup (some Cissus); gynoecium syncarpous, the ovary superior, the carpels 2, the locules 2, the style simple, the stigma minute, entire; ovules 2 per locule. Fruits berries, spherical or ellipsoid, the epicarp thin and chartaceous or thick and crustaceous (ellipsoid fruits), the mesocarp fleshy and juicy, the endocarp adherent to seed testa, more fibrous than mesocarp, fleshy and juicy. Seeds 1(2-4), the testa variously ribbed and grooved with two ventral intrusions into endosperm (foveae), dorsal chalaza usually present (except in most Cissus); endosperm ruminate, 3-lobed, corneous, the embryo minute. 

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Ampelopsis - Mexico, Guatemala.
  • Ampelocissus - Mexico, Mesoamerica, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola.
  • Cissus - Mexico, Mesoamerica, Caribbean, South America.
  • Vitis - Mexico, Mesoamerica, Colombia, Ecuador.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

  • Leaf-opposite tendrils and/or inflorescences.
  • Valvate petals with opposite stamens.
  • Stipules present, caducous or persistent.

Other important characters

Key differences from similar families

Number of genera

13 genera worldwide (6 in Neotropics):

  • Ampelopsis
  • Ampelocissus
  • Cissus
  • Parthenocissus
  • Tetrastigma Planch.
  • Vitis

Useful tips for generic identification

  • Ampelocissus - stigma entire, panicles or thyrses, disc adnate to ovary, associate tendrils in inflorescences present, adhesive discs absent, cobwebby hairs present.
  • Ampelopsis - lianas, stigma entire, panicles or thyrses, disc only adnate to ovary base, associate tendrils in inflorescences absent but inflorescence branches sometimes tendril -like, adhesive discs absent, cobwebby hairs absent.
  • Cissus - stigma entire, cymes, disc adnate to ovary, associate tendrils in inflorescences absent, adhesive discs present or absent, cobwebby hairs absent.
  • Parthenocissus (CULTIVATED) - stigma entire, panicles or thyrses, disc absent, inflorescences with associate tendrils, adhesive discs present, cobwebby hairs absent.
  • Tetrastigma (CULTIVATED) - stigma 4-lobed, panicles or thyrses, ‘disc’ composed by separate glands, inflorescences with associate tendrils, adhesive discs absent, cobwebby hairs present or absent.
  • Vitis - stigma entire, panicles or thyrses, ‘disc’ composed of separate glands, inflorescences with associate tendrils, adhesive discs absent, cobwebby hairs present or absent.


  • Ampelocissus (Native)
  • Ampelopsis (Native)
  • Cissus (Native, Cultivated, Naturalised)
  • Parthenocissus (Cultivated)
  • Tetrastigma (Cultivated)
  • Vitis (Native, Cultivated)

General notes

  • Some native species have economic potential; fruits of Mesoamerican Ampelocissus are used by local people for vinegar preparation and as table fruit. The berries of some South American Cissus (e.g. C. stipulata Vell. and C. trigona Willd. ex Schult. & Schult. f., which have the biggest fruits of all Neotropical species) are reported as sweet in Herbarium labels, whereas the small-fruited species usually have unpleasant fruits, filled with stinging raphides.
  • Cissus verticillata (L.) Nicolson & C.E.Jarvis subsp. verticillata has the widest geographic and altitudinal distribution of all the Neotropical species. It occurs in almost all American countries, except Canada and Chile, at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,500 m. In Brazil it is the only species under intense pharmacological study because of its reported medicinal properties. It is also cultivated around the world as an ornamental, although it is a potential weed, as in the Florida orange groves.

Important literature

Lombardi, J. A. 1995. Typification of names of South American Cissus (Vitaceae). Taxon 44: 193-206.

Lombardi, J. A. 1997. Types of names in Ampelocissus and Cissus (Vitaceae) referring to taxa in the Caribbean, Central and N. America. Taxon 46: 423-432.

Lombardi, J. A. 2000. Vitaceae - Gêneros Ampelocissus, Ampelopsis e Cissus. Flora Neotropica monograph 80: 1-250.

Lombardi, J. A. 2001. Vitaceae. In: G. Harling & L. Anderson (eds.), Opera Botanica. Series B. Flora of Ecuador 67: 1-36.

Lombardi, J. A. 2004. Vitaceae, In: N. Smith, S. A. Mori, A. Henderson, D. W. Stevenson & S. V. Head (eds.), Flowering Plant of the Neotropics: 394-396. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Rossetto, M., B. R. Jackes, K. D. Scott & R. J. Henry. 2002. Is the genus Cissus (Vitaceae) monophyletic? Evidence from plastid and nuclear ribosomal DNA. Systematic Botany 27: 522–533.

Soejima, A & J. Wen. 2006. Phylogenetic analysis of the grape family (Vitaceae) based on three chloroplast markers. American Journal of Botany 93: 278-287.

How to cite

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