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Odontonema flwrs.jpg
Flowers of Odontonema cuspidatum
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Acanthaceae
Juss. [1] [2]
Type genus
Subfamilies [1]
  • Avicenniaceae Miq., nom. cons.
  • Justiciaceae Raf.
  • Mendonciaceae Bremek.
  • Meyeniaceae Sreem.
  • Nelsoniaceae Sreem.
  • Thunbergiaceae Lilja [1]

Acanthaceae is a family (the acanthus family) of dicotyledonous flowering plants containing almost 250 genera and about 2500 species. Most are tropical herbs, shrubs, or twining vines; some are epiphytes. Only a few species are distributed in temperate regions. The four main centres of distribution are Indonesia and Malaysia, Africa, Brazil, and Central America. Representatives of the family can be found in nearly every habitat, including dense or open forests, scrublands, wet fields and valleys, sea coast and marine areas, swamps, and mangrove forests.



Plants in this family have simple, opposite, decussated leaves with entire (or sometimes toothed, lobed, or spiny) margins, and without stipules. The leaves may contain cystoliths, calcium carbonate concretions, seen as streaks on the surface.

The flowers are perfect, zygomorphic to nearly actinomorphic, and arranged in an inflorescence that is either a spike, raceme, or cyme. Typically, a colorful bract subtends each flower; in some species, the bract is large and showy. The calyx usually has four or five lobes; the corolla tubular, two-lipped or five-lobed; stamens number either two or four, arranged in pairs and inserted on the corolla, and the ovary is superior and bicarpellated, with axile placentation.

The fruit is a two-celled capsule, dehiscing somewhat explosively. In most species, the seeds are attached to a small, hooked stalk (a modified funiculus called a jaculator or a retinaculum) that ejects them from the capsule. This trait is shared by all members of the clade Acanthoideae. A 1995 study of seed expulsion in Acanthaceae used high speed video pictures to show that retinacula propel seeds away from the parent plant when the fruits dehisce, thereby helping the plant gain maximum seed dispersal range. [3]

A species well known to temperate gardeners is bear's breeches ( Acanthus mollis ), a herbaceous perennial plant with big leaves and flower spikes up to 2 m tall. Tropical genera familiar to gardeners include Thunbergia and Justicia .

Avicennia , a genus of mangrove trees, usually placed in Verbenaceae or in its own family, Avicenniaceae, is included in Acanthaceae by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group on the basis of molecular phylogenetic studies that show it to be associated with this family.

Medicinal uses

Traditionally the most important part use in Acanthaceae is the leaves and they are used externally for wounds. Some research has indicated that Acanthaceae possess antifungal, cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic, antioxidant, insecticidal, hepatoprotective, immunomodulatory, anti-platelet aggregation and anti-viral potential. [4]

For instance, Acanthus ilicifolius , whose chemical composition has been heavily researched, is widely used in ethnopharmaceutical applications, including in Indian and Chinese traditional medicine. [5] Various parts of Acanthus ilicifolius have been used to treat asthma, diabetes, leprosy, hepatitis, snake bites, and rheumatoid arthritis. [6] The leaves of Acanthus ebracteatus , noted for their antioxidant properties, are used for making Thai herbal tea in Thailand and Indonesia. [7]


Phytochemical reports on family Acanthaceae are glycosides, flavonoids, benzonoids, phenolic compounds, naphthoquinone and triterpenoids. [4]

Overview of systematics

Since the first comprehensive classification of Acanthaceae in 1847 by Nees, [8] there have been a few major revisions presented since for the whole family.

Lindau, in 1895, divided the family into the subfamilies Mendoncioideae, Thunbergioideae, Nelsonioideae, and Acanthoideae. [9] Critically, Mendoncioideae, Thunbergioideae, and Nelsonioideae do not possess retinaculate fruits—and it is this distinction, between classifying Acanthaceae into a family that includes those clades with non-retinaculate fruits and one that excludes them, that still persists to the modern day.

Bremekamp, in 1965, presented a classification of Acanthaceae that differed from that of Lindau, for his Acanthaceae excluded genera that lack retinaculate fruits. [10] He placed Nelsonioideae within Scrophulariaceae, classified Thunbergiaceae and Mendonciaceae as distinct families and divided his Acanthaceae into two groups (Acanthoideae and Ruelloideae) based on the presence or absence of cystoliths, articulate stems, monothecate anthers, and colpate pollen.

In Scotland and Vollesen's 2000 study, [11] they accepted 221 genera and detailed five major groups within Acanthaceae s.s. (that is, those possessing retinaculate fruits), which is equivalent to Acanthoideae Link sensu Lindau 1895. Out of those 221 genera, they placed 201 of them into seven infrafamilial taxa of Acanthaceae, leaving only 20 unplaced.

In the current understanding of Acanthaceae, Acanthaceae s.s. includes only those clades with retinaculate fruits (that is, Acantheae, Barlerieae, Andrographideae, Whitfieldeae, Ruellieae, and Justiceae), while Acanthaceae s.l. includes those clades as well as Thunbergioideae, Nelsonioideae, and Avicennia. [12]

Dating the Acanthaceae lineage

Much research, using both molecular data and fossils, has been conducted in recent years regarding the dating and distribution of the Acanthaceae and Lamiales lineage, although there still remains some ambiguity.

In a 2004 study on the molecular phylogenetic dating of asterid flowering plants, researchers estimated 106 million years (MY) for the stem lineage of Lamiales, 67 MY for the stem lineage of Acanthaceae, and 54 MY for the crown node of Acanthaceae (that is, the age of extant lineages with the family). [13] These estimates are older than those based on fossils that can confidently be assigned to Lamiales, which are middle Eocene in age, ca. 48-37 MY. [14] Palynomorphs that definitively show the existence of Acanthaceae are known from the upper Miocene, with the oldest ca. 22 MY. [15]

Selected genera

Chinese violet (Asystasia gangetica) Asystasia gangetica in Hyderabad W IMG 4769.jpg
Chinese violet ( Asystasia gangetica )
Barleria sp. Unided Barleria in Talakona forest, AP W IMG 8542.jpg
Barleria sp.
Leaf of the nerve plant (Fittonia verschaffeltii) Acanthaceae leaf.jpg
Leaf of the nerve plant ( Fittonia verschaffeltii )
Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) 2006 08 14 Hypoestes Phyllostachya.jpg
Polka dot plant ( Hypoestes phyllostachya )
Justicia aurea Starr 021122 0083 justicia aurea.jpg
Justicia aurea
Louteridium panemensis Louteridium panamensis.JPG
Louteridium panemensis
Peristrophe speciosa Peristrophe speciosa1.jpg
Peristrophe speciosa
Pseuderanthemum reticulatum Pseuderanthemum reticulatum W IMG 1124.jpg
Pseuderanthemum reticulatum
Popping pod (Ruellia tuberosa ) Wayside Tuberose -Ruella tuberosa- flower in Hyderabad, AP W IMG 6628.jpg
Popping pod ( Ruellia tuberosa )
Rostellularia sp. Rostellularia species in Talakona forest, AP W IMG 8313.jpg
Rostellularia sp.
Thunbergia laurifolia Thunbergia laurifolia (Blue Trumpet wine) W IMG 1973.jpg
Thunbergia laurifolia

The 246 accepted genera, according to Germplasm Resources Information Network, are:

Excluded genera

Related Research Articles

<i>Strobilanthes</i> Genus of flowering plants in the acanthus family

Strobilanthes is a genus of about 350 species of flowering plants in the family Acanthaceae, mostly native to tropical Asia and Madagascar, but with a few species extending north into temperate regions of Asia. Many species are cultivated for their two-lipped, hooded flowers in shades of blue, pink, white and purple. Most are frost-tender and require protection in frost-prone areas.

<i>Justicia</i> (plant) Genus of flowering plants

Justicia is a genus of flowering plants in the family Acanthaceae. It is the largest genus within the family, encompassing around 700 species with hundreds more as yet unresolved. They are native to tropical to warm temperate regions of the Americas, India and Africa. The genus serves as host to many butterfly species, such as Anartia fatima. Common names include water-willow and shrimp plant, the latter from the inflorescences, which resemble a shrimp in some species. The generic name honours Scottish horticulturist James Justice (1698–1763). They are closely related to Pachystachys.

<i>Ruellia</i> Genus of flowering plants

Ruellia is a genus of flowering plants commonly known as ruellias or wild petunias. They are not closely related to petunias (Petunia) although both genera belong to the same euasterid clade. The genus was named in honor of Jean Ruelle, herbalist and physician to Francis I of France and translator of several works of Dioscorides.

<i>Dicliptera</i> Genus of flowering plants

Dicliptera is a genus of flowering plants in the bear's breeches family, Acanthaceae. Well-known synonyms include Peristrophe and Dactylostegium.

<i>Hypoestes</i> Genus of flowering plants

Hypoestes is a flowering plant genus of about 150 species. They are widely distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical lands around the Indian Ocean, and some adjacent regions.

<i>Asystasia</i> Genus of flowering plants in the acanthus family Acanthaceae

The genus Asystasia belongs to the family Acanthaceae and comprises approximately 70 species found in the tropics, including the weedy species Asystasia gangetica.

Anisotes is a genus of Afrotropical plants in the family Acanthaceae. The genus is morphologically similar to Metarungia, from which it differs mainly in the dehiscence of the fruit capsule, and the nature of the placenta. Placentas remain attached to the inner surface of fruit capsules in Anisotes.

<i>Isoglossa</i> Genus of flowering plants

Isoglossa is a genus of flowering plants in the family Acanthaceae.

<i>Rhinacanthus</i> Genus of flowering plants

Rhinacanthus is a genus of plants in the family Acanthaceae. It contains the following species :

<i>Whitfieldia</i> Genus of flowering plants

Whitfieldia is a genus of plants in the family Acanthaceae with about 14 species in tropical Africa.

<i>Mimulopsis</i> Genus of flowering plants

Mimulopsis is a genus in the flowering plant family Acanthaceae with about 30 species native to tropical Africa and Madagascar.

<i>Crossandra</i> Genus of flowering plants

Crossandra is a genus of plants in the family Acanthaceae, comprising 54 species that occur in Africa, Madagascar, Arabia and the Indian subcontinent. Some species, especially Crossandra infundibuliformis, are cultivated for their brightly colored flowers.

<i>Acanthus ilicifolius</i> Species of flowering plant

Acanthus ilicifolius, commonly known as holly-leaved acanthus, sea holly, and holy mangrove is a species of shrubs or herbs, of the plant family Acanthaceae, native to Australia, Australasia, and Southeast Asia. It is used as medicine in asthma and rheumatism.

<i>Phlogacanthus</i> Genus of flowering plants

Phlogacanthus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Acanthaceae and tribe Andrographideae. Its distribution includes India through to Indo-China, southern China and Sulawesi.

Acanthoideae Subfamily of flowering plants

Acanthoideae is a subfamily of plants in the family Acanthaceae.

Dischistocalyx is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the family Acanthaceae.

<i>Rungia</i> Genus of plants

Rungia is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the family Acanthaceae.


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