Sabiaceae Blume

First published in Mus. Bot. 1: 368. 1851 (1851)nom. cons.
This family is accepted


Ramos, E. & Lombardi, J.A. (2009). Neotropical Sabiaceae.


Trees, stipules absent; leaves alternate , simple or imparipinnate , sometimes heteromorphic; petiole bases sub - woody , petiolules often with pulvini; blade margins dentate or entire ; venation pinnate . Inflorescences terminal or axillary panicles; flowers crowded and nearly sessile , actinomorphic or zygomorphic , hermaphrodite , relatively small; sepals (4-)5, petals (4-)5; androecium of 5 stamens (2 fertile, 3 staminoidal), connective swollen,  anther thecaunilocellate; gynoecium with superior ovary , carpels (2)3, apices distinct or united to form a common style , locules (2)3; placentation axile , ovules usually 2 per carpel , unitegmic. Fruit a drupe with a crustaceous endocarp ; seed 1 per fruit , endosperm usually reduced.

Distribution in the Neotropics
  • Sabiaceae comprise three genera and nearly 100 species (Gentry 1980, Steyermark & Gentry 1992, Arbeláez, 2004, Aymard & Cuello, 2005). The family was established in 1849 by Blume and is distributed through subtropical and tropical regions of Asia and America (Mabberley 1987, Kubitzki 2004).
  • In tropical America the family includes two genera: Meliosma and Ophiocaryon.
  • Ophiocaryon is South American and has 7 species (Barneby 1972).
  • Meliosma occurs disjunctly in Asia, South and Central America, North to Mexico.
Key differences from similar families
  • Meliosma can be confused with Sapotaceae, but it lacks milky latex.
  • In the Neotropics only M. alba (Schltdl.) Walp. has compound leaves.
  • Ophiocaryon could be confused with Sapindaceae but differs in having a well developed terminalleaflet, in contrast with the rudimentary terminalleaflet in Sapindaceae.
Useful tips for generic identification

Key to the genera of Neotropical Sabiaceae

1. Pinnately compound leaves; two stigmas .... Ophiocaryon
1. Simple, very rarely pinnately compound leaves; one stigma....  Meliosma

Other important characters
  • Leaf margins usually serrate and leaves with bases sub-woody. Petiolules often with pulvini.
Distinguishing characters (always present)
  • In Sabiaceae the flowers have a distinct morphology with stamens and petals opposite to sepals, and only two fertile stamens.
  • The fruit is a very characteristic single-seeded drupe, round or obovate and distinctly asymmetric with an extremely hard woodyendocarp, often with a median keel.
General Description
Number of genera
  • Two genera: Ophiocaryon and Meliosma.
  • Native.
  • Ophiocaryon is restricted to the rainforests of northeastern South America (Amazonia), and Meliosma is an amphi-Pacific genus disjunct between Southeast Asia and tropical America, mostly south of Central America (including Atlantic forest) and Tropical Andes.
General notes
  • Meliosma was monographed for the Old World by Van Beusekom (1971). Urban (1900) studied the family in the Neotropics and new species are still being described.
  • Only Sabia does not occur in the Neotropics, and is native in Asia.
  • Taxonomy of Sabiaceae divides opinions about the trimerous or pentamerous origin of its flowers (Gagnepain 1950), but early ontogenetic investigations showed evidence of  a pentamerous origin of Meliosma (Wanntorp and De Craene 2007) supporting the opinion of Warburg (1895), who considered the ontogeny and morphology of Sabiaceae essential to understanding its systematic relations.
Notes on delimitation
  • Airy Shaw (1966) followed by Takthajan (1997) considered the family not to be natural and separated Meliosmaceae, comprising Meliosma Blume and Ophiocaryon Endl., from Sabiaceae, leaving only Sabia Colebr. Sabiaceae is usually considered in the traditional classification (Warburg 1895, Löfgren 1917, Barroso et al. 1984, Van Beusekom 1971, 1981, Van Beusekom & Water 1989, Cronquist 1981, Gentry 1980, Gunn et al. 1992, Kubitzki 2004, Water 1980).
  • The position of Sabiaceae in the APG classification mains obscure, somewhere among the Lower Eudicots not placed, close to the Proteaceae and Buxaceae (APG 2003), although considerably different morphologically.
Important literature

Airy Shaw, H.K. 1966. J.C. Willis's A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns. 7th ed. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

APG. 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APGII. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141: 399-436.

Arbelaez, A.L. 2004. Two new species of Meliosma (Sabiaceae) from Bolivia. Novon 14: 12-16.

Aymard C., G. & Cuello, A.N. Aymard C., Cuello, A.N. 2005. Sabiaceae. In: P.E. Berry, K. Yatskievych & B.K. Holst. Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana, Vol. 9. Rutaceae -Zygophyllaceae, pp. 39-43.

Aymard, C., Gerardo, A. and Daly, D.C. 2006. Two new species of Ophiocaryon (Sabiaceae) from South America. Brittonia 58: 270-276.

Barroso, G.M., Peixoto, A.L., Ichaso, C.L.F., Costa, C.G., Guimarães, E.F. and Lima, H.C. de. 1984. Sistemática de Angiospermas do Brasil 2. Viçosa, Imprensa Universitária da Universidade Federal de Viçosa.

Beusekom, C.F. van. 1971. Revision of Meliosma (Sabiaceae), section Lorenzanea excepted, living and fossil, geography and phylogeny. Blumea 19: 335-529.

Beusekom, C.F. van. 1981. Sabiaceae. In: Dassanayake, M.D. (ed.), A revised Handbook to the Fora of Ceylon vol. 3, pp. 379-385. New Delhi, Amerind.

Beusekom, C.F. van and Water, T.P.M. van de. 1989. Sabiaceae. In: C.G.G.J. van Steenis and W.J.J.O. de Wilde (eds.). Flora Malesiana. Series 1. Spermatophyta vol. 10, pp. 679-715. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.

Blume, C.L. 1849. Museum Botanicum Lugno-Bavatum, vol 1. Brill, Leiden.

Cronquist, A. 1981. An integrated system of classification of flowering plants. Columbian University Press, New York.

Gagnepain, F. 1950. Meliosma (Sabiacée): sa fleur. Bulletin de La Societé Botanique de France 97: 89-90.

Gentry A.H. 1980. Sabiaceae. Flora of Panama: part 6. Family: 109. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 67: 949-963.

Gunn, C.R., Wiersema, J.H., Ritchie, C.A., Kirkbride, J.H.Jr. 1992. Families and genera of spermatophytes recognized by the Agricultural Research Service. Techn. Bull. U.S.D.A. 1796.

Kubitzki, K. 2004. Sabiaceae. In: N. Smith, S. A. Mori, A. Henderson, D. W. Stevenson & S. V. Head (eds). Flowering Plant of the Neotropics: 335-336. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Löfgren, A. 1917. Manual das familias naturaes phanerogamas com chaves dichotomicas das familias e dos generos brasileiros. Imprensa Oficial, Rio de Janeiro.

Lombardi, J. A. 2009.  A new Species of Meliosma (Sabiaceae) from Southeastern Brazil and Notes on the Genus. Novon 19: 62-67.

Mabberley, D.J. 1987. The Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of the higher plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Takhtajan, A. 1997. Diversity and classification of flowering plants. Columbia University Press, New York.

Urban, I. 1900. Sabiaceae. In: I. Urban (ed.). Symbolae Antillanae 1(3): 499-518. Fratres Borntraeger, Berlin.

Wanntorp, L. and De Craene, L.P.R. 2008. Morphology and anatomy of the flower of Meliosma (Sabiaceae): implications for pollination biology. Plant Systematics and Evolution 271(1-2): 79-91.

Warburg, O. 1895. Sabiaceae. In: A. Engler and K. Prantl (eds). Das Pflanzenreich, vol. VII, Part. 5, 367-374. Engelmann, Leipzig.

Water, T.P.M. van de. 1980. A taxonomic revision of the genus Sabia (Sabiaceae). Blumea 26: 1-64.



  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2022. Published on the Internet at and
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  • Neotropikey

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