Chloranthaceae R.Br. ex Sims

First published in Bot. Mag. 48: ad t. 2190. 1820 [1 Nov 1820] (1820)nom. cons.
This family is accepted


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


Evergreen trees (2-30 m tall) and scandent shrubs, large prop roots regularly present, glabrous or with non- glandular trichomes, all parts strongly aromatic. Leaves simple , opposite, decussate , petiolate , petiolar bases form a cylindric or quadrangular persistent sheath around the stem , nodes swollen; blade fleshy to coriaceous , pinnately veined, margins crenate - serrate ; stipules 4. Staminateinflorescence in dioecious species ( axillary or terminal , 1 to several spikes, axis racemose or paniculate; leaf-like bracts present), in monoecious species (solitary spikes on pistillate inflorescence axis or within a cymules (along with pistillate flowers)). Pistillateinflorescence axillary or terminal , cymules, spikes, racemes or panicles; bracts present. Staminateflowers basic, 60-300 flowers per spike , without perianth , ebracteate, 1-3 sessile stamens, anthers, oblong , longitudinally dehiscent . PistillateFlowers simple , perianth lobes 0.5-3mm, free at the base or partially to completely united forming a small tube, adnate to the ovary ; ovary inferior or semi-inferior, sometimes nude, carpel 1, locule 1, stigma 1 sessile or on very short style . Fruit a drupe , fleshy , aromatic and brightly coloured, exocarps thin, mesocarp fleshy , endocarp hard, or multiple with colourful, juicy floral bracts. Seed 1 per fruit , small, brown or black smooth or minutely papillate, endosperm well developed, oily.

General Description
Notes on delimitation
  • Chloranthaceae are probably sister to magnoliids (Moore et al. 2007) as the only family in the order Chloranthales.
Number of genera
  • One: Hedyosmum Sw. with 44 species.
General notes
  • Hedyosmum brasiliense has medicinal property.
  • One species H. mexicanum C. Cordem. provides edible, sweet tasting fruit.
  • Hedyosmum is derived from the Greek words hedy (pleasant) osmum (smelling).
  • An interesting family from an evolutionary point of view, lending its name to the Chloranthoid Hypothesis, which suggests that the first flowering plants had the similar small, basic, unisexual, wind-pollinated flowers.


Distribution in the Neotropics
  • Growing throughout the Neotropics, predominantly in wet, cool, montane forest at altitudes anywhere between 500m and 3,000m.
  • Two-thirds of the species are found in Andean South America, primarily in disturbed sites.
Other important characters
  • Prop roots.
  • Floral bracts becoming colourful and succulent and appealing to birds.
  • Long flowering season.
  • Long staminate inflorescences with abundant pollen.
Distinguishing characters (always present)
  • Swollen leaf sheath in-between leaf stalks.
  • Unisexual flowers.
  • Minute perianth.
  • Opposite leaves.
  • Crenate to serrate leaf margins.
  • NB! Pungent odour from all broken parts of the plant.
Key differences from similar families
  • Loranthaceae are estipulate.
  • Caprifoliaceae have a distinct perianth.
  • Piperaceae have alternate leaves.
Important literature

Maas, P. J. M. & Westra, L. Y. Th. 2005. Neotropical Plant Families. 3rd ed. P. 106. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag K.G., Ruggell.

Moore et al. 2007. Using plastid genome-scale data to resolve enigmatic relationships among basal angiosperms PNAS: 104(49).

Todizia, C. A. 1988. Chloranthaceae: Hedyosmum. Flora Neotropica. Monograph 48. The New York Botanical Garden, New York.


Timothy M. A. Utteridge and Laura V. S. Jennings (2022). Trees of New Guinea. Kew Publishing. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

A family of four genera and 70 species, absent from Africa (except Madagascar) and Australia, but throughout the New World and the Asian tropics as far north as Japan. Three genera are found in New Guinea: Chloranthus, Sarcandra, and Ascarina, the latter is the only arborescent genus.


  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2023. Published on the Internet at and
    • © Copyright 2022 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants.
  • Neotropikey

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

    • Trees of New Guinea