Theaceae Mirb. ex Ker Gawl.

This family is accepted.


Theaceae, N. K. B. Robson. Flora Zambesiaca 1:2. 1961

Morphology General Habit
Trees or shrubs
Morphology Leaves
Leaves alternate or spiral, simple, usually coriaceous, exstipulate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers axillary, solitary or sometimes paired or in fascicles, rarely cymose or in elongated racemes, actinomorphic, bisexual or rarely unisexual, often with one or more pairs of bracteoles below the calyx
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Sepals usually 5, imbricate, free or shortly connate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals usually 5, imbricate, hypogynous, free or shortly connate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium
Stamens ? or rarely definite, hypogynous, free or fasciculate or connate at the base to form a tube, sometimes adnate to the base of the petals; anthers versatile or basifixed, often with an apiculate connective-prolongation, dehiscing longitudinally or rarely at first by apical pores; disk absent
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium
Ovary superior (rarely apparently semi-inferior), syncarpous, sessile, (1) 2–5 (7)-locular; styles free or united; ovules 2 or more (rarely 1) in each loculus, axile, sometimes pendulous
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruit a loculicidal capsule (often leaving a persistent central column) or a dry or rarely fleshy berry or drupe, indehiscent or rarely irregularly dehiscent at the apex
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds 1–? endosperm abundant, scanty or absent; embryo straight or curved, sometimes folded or spirally twisted


Every, J.L.R. (2009). Neotropical Theaceae.


Trees (up to 20m) or shrubs, usually evergreen , indumentum of unicellular trichomes or glabrous . Leaves spiral or distichous , simple , petiolate or sessile (appearing petiolate due to the decurrent base), often asymmetric , coriaceous , margins serrate (rarely entire ), with small deciduous bristle-like glands terminating each tooth, venation pinnate more or less craspedromous or obscure (Laplacea Kunth), exstipulate . Flowers solitary (occasionally appearing fasciculate or racemose (Camellia L.), axillary , hermaphroditic (in Camellia) or unisexual (Laplacea), sepaloid, 2 prophylls or 2-7 involucral bracteoles intergrading with the calyx and corolla making the perianth parts indistinguishable from one another; calyx with 5-6 or rarely more sepals, these imbricate , basally connate or distinct, often persistent in fruit ; corolla with 5-6 (-10) petals, these imbricate , distinct or slightly basally connate ; stamens 20-40, free or rarely basally to fully connate , frequently adnate to base of corolla , centrifugal, with 5 primordia opposite each petal or with ring primordium in 2-5 whorls, anthers articulated, versatile or dorsifixed, opening by longitudinal slits, staminodia present in female flowers; gynoecium (3-)5(-10), syncarpous, ovary superior , occasionally hirsute , 3-5-loculate, styles 1, lobed or 3-5, capitate . Fruit a spheroidal, woody , loculicidal capsule c. 2 cm long, generally with a persistent calyx , columella persistent . Seeds few, 0.4-2cm long, flattened, oblong apical wings present or not (Camellia).

General Description
Notes on delimitation
  • Theaceae s.s. is made up of ca. nine genera and up to 460 species with a centre of diversity in the subtropics and tropics, predominately in Southeast Asia (Prince 2007). The family has been greatly reduced over the years and has previously contained four subfamilies, 40 genera and ca. 600 species.
  • A former subfamily Ternstroemioideae sensu Cronquist is treated as a separate entity within the Pentaphylacaceae in Neotropikey.
  • Analyses of rbcL sequence data and morphological features show that Theaceae s.l. does not form a natural family (APG 2002) and is treated here in the same way as the subfamily Theoideae sensu Cronquist containing the Neotropical Laplacea and the cultivated Camellia.
  • Theaceae s.s. is regarded as paraphyletic with Ternstroemiaceae (Morton 1996).
  • Laplacea has long been synonymised with the Neotropical Gordonia J. Ellis, but is recognised as a distinct genus following phylogenetic work (Prince and Parks 2001).
Number of genera
  • Two genera: Lapacea (native) and Camellia (introduced).
  • Laplacea is a native genus and Camellia introduced.
Distribution in the Neotropics
  • Laplacea Kunth can be found throughout the Neotropics growing mainly in cloud forests at altitudes of between 1,900-2,500m. Thought to have approximately 3-8 species. 
  • Camelliasinensis (L.) Kuntze is widely cultivated as a tea plant, particularly in Cuzco, Peru.
  • Camelliajaponica L. is grown in gardens for its flowers which possess great ornamental value. This genus has its centre of distribution in Southeast Asia.
Distinguishing characters (always present)
  • Trees or shrubs.
  • Thick and serrateexstipulate leaves (regularly turning red before dropping).
  • Tiny theoid gland at the tip of each tooth of the laminar margin.
  • Imbricated perianth segments (quincuncical).
  • Capsular fruit with a persistent central, woodyaxis (columella).
Key differences from similar families

The Theaceae share a number of similarities with the following families but, these families differ in having the features listed below:

  • Bonnetiaceae - white to yellow exudate.
  • Kielmeyeroideae of the Clusiaceae - exudate present.
  • Sapotaceae - exudate present.
  • Actinidiaceae - inflorescence a thyrse, fruit a berry with numerous seeds.
  • Pentaphylacaceae - fruitbaccate, black gland dots on the underside of  the leaf.
  • Tetrameristaceae - fruit a berry, racemose inflorescence.
  • Symplocaceae - densely pubescent, fruit a drupe, inferior ovary.
Other important characters
  • Showy flowers (fragrant in Camellia).
  • The bracteoles, calyx and corolla are quite often arranged spirally and are frequently impossible to tell apart.
  • Corollaconnate at base.
  • Numerous stamens.
  • Stamens adnate to base of corolla.
  • Ovaryhirsute.
  • Flattened seed (winged in Laplacea).
Notable genera and distinguishing features


  • Trees.
  • Asymmetrical lamina.
  • Bracteoles deciduous.
  • Unisexual flowers.
  • Ovary (3-)5(-10)-locular.
  • Stigmas capitate.
  • Wingedseed.


  • Shrubs or trees up to 9 m high.
  • Petiole 3-10mm long.
  • Apparently racemose or fasciculateinflorescence.
  • Bracteoles 2 or more, not sharply differentiated from calyx.
  • Ovary 3(-5) locular.
Important literature

Airy-Shaw, H. K. 1936.  Notes on the genus Schima and on the classification of the Theaceae-Camellioïdeae. Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew) 9: 496-499.

Culham, A. 2007.  Theaceae. In:  Heywood, V.H., Brummitt, R.K., Culham, A. and Seberg, O. (eds.). Flowering Plant Families of the World, p. 318. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kobuski, C. 1950.  Studies in the Theaceae, XX. Notes on the South and Central American species of Laplacea and Gordonia (Theaceae). J. Arnold Arbor. 31: 405-429.

Luna, I. and Ochoterena, H. 2004.  Phylogenetic relationships of the genera of Theaceae based on morphology. Cladistics 20: 223-270.

Maas, P.J.M. & Westra, L.Y. Th. 2005.  Neotropical Plant Families. 3rd ed, p. 248. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag K.G., Ruggell.

Morton, C. M., Chase, M. C., Kron, K.A. and Swensen, S.M. 1996.  A molecular evaluation of the monophyly of the order Ebenales based upon rbcL sequence data. Syst. Bot. 21: 567-67.

Pennington, T.D. 2004.  Illustrated guide to the trees of Peru, Pp. 212-215. David Hunt Press, Milborne Port Sherborne.

Pool, A. 2001.  Theaceae. Pp. 2443-2448. In: W.D. Stevens, C. Ulloa Ulloa, A. Pool and O. M. Montiel (eds.), Flora de Nicaragua vol. 3, Angiosperms (Pandanaceae-Zygophyllaceae). Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.

Prince, L. M. 2007.  A brief nomenclatural review of genera and tribes in Theaceae. Aliso 24: 105-121.

Prince, L. M. and Parks, C. L. 2001.  Phylogenetic relationships of Theaceae inferred from chloroplast DNA sequence data. American Journal of Botany 88(12): 2309-2320.

Sealy, J. R. 1958.  A revision of the genus Camellia. The Royal Horticultural Society, London.

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

Stevens, P.F., Dressler, S. and Weitzman, A.L. 2004a.  Theaceae. Pp. 463-471. In: Kubitzki, K. (ed.), Families and Genera of Vascular Plants vol. 6. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York.

Stevenson, D.W. and Stevenson, J.W. 2004.  Theaceae. Pp. 369-370. In: Smith, N., Mori, S.A., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D.W. and Heald, S.V. (eds.). Flowering Plants of the Neotropics. The New York Botanical Garden, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Watson, L. and Dallwitz, M.J. (1992 onwards).  The Families of Flowering Plants: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. Version 25th November 2008.


Theaceae, B. Verdcourt (East African Herbarium). Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1962

Morphology General Habit
Trees or shrubs, usually evergreen
Morphology Leaves
Leaves alternate or spirally arranged, exstipulate, often toothed
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers unisexual or hermaphrodite, regular, usually solitary, rarely paniculate, racemose or cymose, frequently large and showy
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Sepals 5(–7), free or slightly joined, imbricate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals 5(–10), free or slightly joined, imbricate or contorted, spreading except in Melchiora
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium
Stamens usually numerous, in several whorls, hypogynous, free, shortly connate or epipetalous
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium
Ovary superior, 1–5-locular ; ovules 1-many in each locule, axile ; styles free or connate

Theaceae Mirb. ex Ker Gawl. appears in other Kew resources:

First published in Bot. Reg. 2: ad t. 112. 1816 [1 May 1816] (1816)

Accepted by

  • APG IV (2016)

  • Flora Zambesiaca

    Flora Zambesiaca

  • Flora of Tropical East Africa

    Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Neotropikey

    Milliken, W., Klitgard, B. and Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.