Malvaceae Info: Allied Families

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The families allied to the Malvaceae in the order Malvales [1] are the Bixaceae (gallery), Cistaceae (gallery), Cochlospermaceae (gallery), Cytinaceae, Diegodendraceae, Dipterocarpaceae, Muntingiaceae, Neuradaceae, Sarcolaenaceae, Sphaerosepalaceae, Tepuianthaceae and Thymelaeaceae (gallery). These can be placed in 3 groups (each of which has been given the rank of order in some classifications), plus the three individual families Cytinaceae, Muntingiaceae, Neuradaceae, and Sphaerosepalaceae. The holoparasitic plant family Apodanthaceae (perhaps in part) may also belong in Malvales.[2, 3]

The first group consists of Bixaceae, Cochlospermaceae and Diegodendraceae. Bixaceae consists of a single genus, Bixa, with 5 species, found in the Neotropics. Bixa orellana has a little economic importance as the source of the dye annato, commonly used as a food colorant or spice, and is now widely cultivated and naturalised in the tropics. Cochlospermaceae has two genera. Cochlospermum has 12 species with a pantropical distribution. Amoreuxia has 3 or 4 species confined to the New World, from the southernmost United States to Peru and Columbia. Diegodendraceae contains a single genus and species, Diegodendron humbertii, from western Madagascar.

The second group consists of Cistaceae, Dipterocarpaceae and Sarcolaenacae. Cistaceae consists of around 8 genera, with about 180 species, found principally in the warm temperate regions of the Western Palaeoarctic and North America. They are predominantly shrubs or subshrubs with a few annuals. Cistus, Halimium and Helianthemum, in particular, are often grown as ornamental shrubs. Dipterocarpaceae is a family of tropical trees, containing approximately 500 species in 17 genera. There are 3 subfamilies: Dipterocarpoideae in Asia (also the Seychelles and New Guinea), Monotoideae in Africa and South America, and Pakaraimoideae in South America. In tropical Asia dipterocarps are one of the most important sources of timber. Monotoideae and Pakaraimoideae are sometimes separated as Monotaceae. Sarcolaenaceae consists of 35 species, in 10 genera, of trees and shrubs, and is confined to Madagascar. Dipterocarpaceae may be paraphyletic with respect to Cistaceae and Sarcolaenaceae.

The third group consists of Thymelaeaceae and Tepuianthaceae. Thymelaeaceae consists of 45 genera, with about 800 species, with a cosmopolitan distribution, but markedly less diverse in northern temperate regions. Several genera, especially Daphne, are grown as ornamental shrubs. Thymelaeaceae is divided into two subfamilies, Octolepidoideae with 8 genera, and Thymelaeaoideae with 37. Tepuianthaceae is composed of a single genus of seven species, found in northern South America.

Muntingiaceae consists of 3 genera, Muntingia, Dicraspidia and Neotessmannia, each with a single species, found in the Neotropics.

The correct phylogenetic position of holoparasitic plants can be difficult to ascertain, due to the loss of diagnostic characters as a result of the parasitic habit, and to horizontal gene transfer from host to parasite. Howerver, Cytinaceae, which consists of the 2 genera, Cytinus and Bdallophyton, of holoparasitic plants, has been found to be the sister group to Muntingiaceae. [4]

Neuradaceae consists of 3 genera, Neurada, Neuradopsis and Grielum, with 8 or 9 species, found principally in South Africa, but with the single species of Neurada to be found in North Africa, south west Asia and India

Sphaerosepalaceae is composed of 2 genera, Rhopalocarpus and Dialyceras, both confined to Madagascar, consisting of 14 and 3 species respectively.

Apodanthaceae consists of the 3 genera Apodanthes, Berlinianche and Pilostyles. The last shows a connection with Malvales in some DNA data sets. Apodanthes has 1 or more species in the Neotropics, and parasitises members of Salicaceae, Burseraceae and Meliaceae. Berlinianche has 2 species in tropical East Africa, and parasitises legumes (of tribe Amherstieae). Pilostyles consists of 20 species with a disjunct distribution in the Neotropics, Mediterranean Southwest Asia and southwest Australia, which parasitise legumes.


  1. Kubitzki. K. & Chase, M.W., Introduction to Malvales, in Kubitzki. K. & Bayer, Clemens, The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants V: 12-17
  2. Nickrent et al, Phylogenetic inference in Rafflesiales: the influence of rate heterogeneity and horizontal gene transfer, BMC Evolutionary Biology 4:40 (2004)
  3. Blarer et al, Comparative floral structure and systematics in Apodanthaceae (Rafflesiales), Plant Syst. Evol. (2004)
  4. Nickrent, Cytinaceae sister to Muntingiaceae, Taxon 56(4): 1129-1135 (2007)

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© 2005, 2006, 2007 Stewart R. Hinsley