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Myrtle family
Temporal range: Early Miocene to Recent, 22–0  Ma
Myrtus communis.jpg
Myrtus communis foliage and flowers
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Myrtales
Family: Myrtaceae
Juss. [1]

About 130; see list

Pimenta dioica Pimenta dioica (Allspice) W IMG 2431.jpg
Pimenta dioica

Myrtaceae or the myrtle family is a family of dicotyledonous plants placed within the order Myrtales. Myrtle, pohutukawa, bay rum tree, clove, guava, acca (feijoa), allspice, and eucalyptus are some notable members of this group. All species are woody, contain essential oils, and have flower parts in multiples of four or five. The leaves are evergreen, alternate to mostly opposite, simple, and usually entire (i.e., without a toothed margin). The flowers have a base number of five petals, though in several genera the petals are minute or absent. The stamens are usually very conspicuous, brightly coloured and numerous.


Evolutionary history

Scientists hypothesize that the family Myrtaceae arose between sixty and fifty-six million years ago during the Paleocene era. Pollen fossils have been sourced to the ancient supercontinent Gondwana. [2] The breakup of Gondwana during the Cretaceous period (145 to 66 Mya) geographically isolated disjunct taxa and allowed for rapid speciation: in particular, genera once considered members of the now-defunct Leptospermoideae alliance are now isolated within Oceania. [3] Generally, experts agree that vicariance is responsible for the differentiation of Myrtaceae taxa, except in the cases of Leptospermum species now located on New Zealand and New Caledonia, islands which may have been submerged at the time of late Eocene differentiation. [2]


Recent estimates suggest the Myrtaceae include approximately 5,950 species in about 132 genera. [4] [5] The family has a wide distribution in tropical and warm-temperate regions of the world, and is common in many of the world's biodiversity hotspots. Genera with capsular fruits such as Eucalyptus , Corymbia , Angophora , Leptospermum , and Melaleuca are absent from the Americas, apart from Metrosideros in Chile and Argentina. Genera with fleshy fruits have their greatest concentrations in eastern Australia and Malesia (the Australasian realm) and the Neotropics. Eucalyptus is a dominant, nearly ubiquitous genus in the more mesic parts of Australia and extends north sporadically to the Philippines. Eucalyptus regnans is the tallest flowering plant in the world. Other important Australian genera are Callistemon (bottlebrushes), Syzygium , and Melaleuca (paperbarks). Species of the genus Osbornia , native to Australasia, are mangroves. Eugenia , Myrcia , and Calyptranthes are among the larger genera in the neotropics.

Syzygium samarangense, with a cross section of the fruit Wax apple.png
Syzygium samarangense , with a cross section of the fruit

Historically, the Myrtaceae were divided into two subfamilies. Subfamily Myrtoideae (about 75 genera) was recognized as having fleshy fruits and opposite, entire leaves. Most genera in this subfamily have one of three easily recognized types of embryos. The genera of Myrtoideae can be very difficult to distinguish in the absence of mature fruits. Myrtoideae are found worldwide in subtropical and tropical regions, with centers of diversity in the Neotropics, northeastern Australia, and Malesia. In contrast, subfamily Leptospermoideae (about 80 genera) was recognized as having dry, dehiscent fruits (capsules) and leaves arranged spirally or alternate. The Leptospermoideae are found mostly in Australasia, with a centre of diversity in Australia. Many genera in Western Australia have greatly reduced leaves and flowers typical of more xeric habitats.


The division of Myrtaceae into Leptospermoideae and Myrtoideae was challenged by a number of authors, including Johnson and Briggs (1984), who identified 14 tribes or clades within Myrtaceae, and found Myrtoideae to be polyphyletic. [6] Molecular studies by several groups of authors, as of 2008, have confirmed the baccate (fleshy) fruits evolved twice from capsular fruits and, as such, the two-subfamily classification does not accurately portray the phylogenetic history of the family. Thus, many workers are now using a recent analysis by Wilson et al. (2001) as a starting point for further analyses of the family. This study pronounced both Leptospermoideae and Myrtoideae invalid, but retained several smaller suballiances shown to be monophyletic through matK analysis. [7]

The genera Heteropyxis and Psiloxylon have been separated as separate families by many authors in the past as Heteropyxidaceae and Psiloxylaceae. [8] [6] However, Wilson et al. [7] included them in Myrtaceae. These two genera are presently believed to be the earliest arising and surviving lineages of Myrtaceae.

The most recent classification recognizes 17 tribes and two subfamilies, Myrtoideae and Psiloxyloideae, based on a phylogenetic analysis of plastid DNA. [9]

Many new species are being described annually from throughout the range of Myrtaceae. Likewise, new genera are being described nearly yearly.


Following Wilson (2011) [10]

Subfamily Psiloxyloideae

Subfamily Myrtoideae



Myrtaceae is foraged by many stingless bees, especially by the species Melipona bicolor which gather pollen from this plant family. [12]

Related Research Articles

Myrtales Order of flowering plants

The Myrtales are an order of flowering plants placed as a sister to the eurosids II clade as of the publishing of the Eucalyptus grandis genome in June 2014.

Rosaceae the rose family of flowering plants

Rosaceae, the rose family, is a medium-sized family of flowering plants, including 4,828 known species in 91 genera.

Rubiaceae Family of flowering plants including coffee, madder and bedstraw

The Rubiaceae are a family of flowering plants, commonly known as the coffee, madder, or bedstraw family. It consists of terrestrial trees, shrubs, lianas, or herbs that are recognizable by simple, opposite leaves with interpetiolar stipules and sympetalous actinomorphic flowers. The family contains about 13,500 species in about 620 genera, which makes it the fourth-largest angiosperm family. Rubiaceae has a cosmopolitan distribution; however, the largest species diversity is concentrated in the tropics and subtropics. Economically important species include Coffea, the source of coffee, Cinchona, the source of the antimalarial alkaloid quinine, some dye plants, and ornamental cultivars.

Eucalypt is a descriptive name for woody plants with capsule fruiting bodies belonging to seven closely related genera found across Australasia: Eucalyptus, Corymbia, Angophora, Stockwellia, Allosyncarpia, Eucalyptopsis and Arillastrum.

Ranunculaceae Family of eudicot flowering plants

Ranunculaceae is a family of over 2,000 known species of flowering plants in 43 genera, distributed worldwide.

Lythraceae Family of flowering plants

Lythraceae is a family of flowering plants, including 32 genera, with about 620 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees. The larger genera include Cuphea, Lagerstroemia (56), Nesaea (50), Rotala (45), and Lythrum (35). It also includes the pomegranate and the water caltrop. Lythraceae has a worldwide distribution, with most species in the tropics, but ranging into temperate climate regions as well.

Hamamelidaceae Witch-hazel family, of shrubs and small trees, in the order Saxifragales

Hamamelidaceae, commonly referred to as the witch-hazel family, is a family of flowering plants in the order Saxifragales. The clade consists of shrubs and small trees positioned within the woody clade of the core Saxifragales. An earlier system, the Cronquist system, recognized Hamamelidaceae in the Hamamelidales order.

Brodiaeoideae Subfamily of flowering plants

Brodiaeoideae are a monocot subfamily of flowering plants in the family Asparagaceae, order Asparagales. They have been treated as a separate family, Themidaceae. They are native to Central America and western North America, from British Columbia to Guatemala. The name of the subfamily is based on the type genus Brodiaea.

<i>Heteropyxis</i> Genus of trees

Heteropyxis is a genus which includes three species of small evergreen trees. It was previously placed along in family Heteropyxidaceae, but is now placed basally within Myrtaceae. The species of Heteropyxis are native to southern Africa.

Vochysiaceae Family of flowering plants

Vochysiaceae is a plant family belonging to the order of Myrtales.

<i>Leptospermum lanigerum</i> Species of shrub

Leptospermum lanigerum, commonly known as the woolly teatree, is a small tree or medium shrub from the plant family Myrtaceae. Its common name derives from the conspicuously hairy capsules produced as fruit, along with the fine, silky hairs present on branches and leaves. L. lanigerum is widespread in many habitats, particularly in waterlogged areas such as moist, sandy coastal heaths, on river banks, riparian scrub, woodlands and on the fringe of montane grasslands. This species is endemic to Australia, with native populations occurring in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

Taxonomy of Liliaceae Classification of the lily family Liliaceae

The taxonomy of Liliaceae has had a complex history since the first description of this flowering plant family in the mid-eighteenth century. Originally, the Liliaceae or Lily family were defined as having a "calix" (perianth) of six equal-coloured parts, six stamens, a single style, and a superior, three-chambered (trilocular) ovary turning into a capsule fruit at maturity. The taxonomic circumscription of the family Liliaceae progressively expanded until it became the largest plant family and also extremely diverse, being somewhat arbitrarily defined as all species of plants with six tepals and a superior ovary. It eventually came to encompass about 300 genera and 4,500 species, and was thus a "catch-all" and hence paraphyletic taxon. Only since the more modern taxonomic systems developed by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) and based on phylogenetic principles, has it been possible to identify the many separate taxonomic groupings within the original family and redistribute them, leaving a relatively small core as the modern family Liliaceae, with fifteen genera and 600 species.

Durioneae is a tribe within the subfamily Helicteroideae of the plant family Malvaceae s.l. The tribe contains at least five genera, including Durio, the genus of tree species that produce Durian fruits.

Myrteae Tribe of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae

Myrteae is the largest tribe in the plant family Myrtaceae. It includes most of the species of the family that have fleshy fruits.

Eucalypteae Tribe of flowering plants

Eucalypteae is a large tribe of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae; members of this tribe are known as eucalypts. In Australia the genera Angophora, Corymbia, and Eucalyptus are commonly known as gum trees, for the sticky substance that exudes from the trunk of some species. As of 2020, the tribe comprised around 860 species, all native to Southeast Asia and Oceania, with a main diversity center in Australia.

<i>Baeckea gunniana</i> Species of flowering plant

Baeckea gunniana, commonly known as alpine baeckea, is a species of a compact, densely branched evergreen shrub, growing in alpine and sub-alpine Australia. Baeckea is a genus of flowering plants in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae, comprising 14 species occurring in eastern Australia and Asia.

<i>Muellerina eucalyptoides</i> Species of plant

Muellerina eucalyptoides, or creeping mistletoe, is a hemiparasitic arial shrub in the family Loranthaceae. The species is endemic to Australia. M. eucalyptoides is pendulous in habit, unlike other Muellerina species, but has the long epicortical runners of all Muellerina species.

Polygonoideae Subfamily of the knotweed family of plants (Polygonaceae)

Polygonoideae is a subfamily of plants in the family Polygonaceae. It includes a number of plants that can be highly invasive, such as Japanese knotweed, Reynoutria japonica, and its hybrid with R. sachalinensis, R. × bohemica. Boundaries between the genera placed in the subfamily and their relationships have long been problematic, but a series of molecular phylogenetic studies have clarified some of them, resulting in the division of the subfamily into seven tribes.

<i>Fergusonina</i> Genus of flies

Fergusonina, the sole genus in the family of Fergusoninidae, are gall-forming flies. There are about 40 species in the genus, all of them producing galls on Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Corymbia, and Metrosideros species in Australia and New Zealand.


  1. Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2009). "An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 161 (2): 105–121. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00996.x .
  2. 1 2 Thornhill, Andrew H.; Ho, Simon Y.W.; Külheim, Carsten; Crisp, Michael D. (December 2015). "Interpreting the modern distribution of Myrtaceae using a dated molecular phylogeny". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 93: 29–43. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.07.007. ISSN   1055-7903. PMID   26211451.
  3. Sytsma, Kenneth J.; Litt, Amy; Zjhra, Michelle L.; Chris Pires, J.; Nepokroeff, Molly; Conti, Elena; Walker, Jay; Wilson, Peter G. (July 2004). "Clades, Clocks, and Continents: Historical and Biogeographical Analysis of Myrtaceae, Vochysiaceae, and Relatives in the Southern Hemisphere". International Journal of Plant Sciences. 165 (S4): S85–S105. doi:10.1086/421066. ISSN   1058-5893. S2CID   62825431.
  4. Christenhusz, M. J. M.; Byng, J. W. (2016). "The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase". Phytotaxa. Magnolia Press. 261 (3): 201–217. doi: 10.11646/phytotaxa.261.3.1 .
  5. Govaerts, R. et al. (12 additional authors). 2008. World Checklist of Myrtaceae. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. xv + 455 pp.
  6. 1 2 Johnson, L. A. S.; Briggs, B. G. (1984). "Myrtales and Myrtaceae-A Phylogenetic Analysis". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 71 (3): 700. doi:10.2307/2399159. ISSN   0026-6493. JSTOR   2399159.
  7. 1 2 Wilson, Peter G.; O'Brien, Marcelle M.; Gadek, Paul A.; Quinn, Christopher J. (2001). "Myrtaceae revisited: a reassessment of infrafamilial groups". American Journal of Botany . 88 (11): 2013–2025. doi: 10.2307/3558428 . JSTOR   3558428.
  8. Sytsma, Kenneth J. and Amy Litt. 2002. Tropical disjunctions in and among the Myrtaceae clade (Myrtaceae, Heteropyxidaceae, Psiloxylaceae, Vochysiaceae): Gondwanan vicariance or dispersal? (Abstract). Botany 2002 Conference, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, August 4–7, 2002.
  9. Wilson, P. G.; O'Brien, M. M.; Heslewood, M. M.; Quinn, C. J. (2005). "Relationships within Myrtaceae sensu lato based on a matK phylogeny". Plant Systematics and Evolution . 251: 3–19. doi:10.1007/s00606-004-0162-y. S2CID   23470845.
  10. Wilson, P. G. (2011) Myrtaceae. In The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants. Volume X. Sapindales, Cucurbitales, Myrtaceae, edited by K. Kubitzki, X:212–71. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 2011.
  11. Pigg, K. B.; Stockey, R. A.; Maxwell, S. L. (1993). ""Paleomyrtinaea", a new genus of permineralized myrtaceous fruits and seeds from the Eocene of British Columbia and Paleocene of North Dakota". Canadian Journal of Botany. 71 (1): 1–9.
  12. Hilário, S.D.; Imperatriz-Fonseca, V.L. (2009). "Pollen foraging in colonies of Melipona bicolor (Apidae, Meliponini): effects of season, colony size and queen number". Genetics and Molecular Research. 8 (2): 664–671. doi: 10.4238/vol8-2kerr029 . PMID   19554765.