R. Brown
Common names: Staff-tree or Bittersweet Family
Treatment appears in FNA Volume 12. Treatment on page 111. Mentioned on page 112, 119.

Herbs, shrubs, trees, or vines, annual or perennial, deciduous or evergreen, synoecious, dioecious, or polygamomonoecious. Leaves alternate, subopposite, opposite, whorled, or fascicled, simple; stipules absent or present; petiole present or absent; blade margins serrate, dentate, spiny, or entire; venation pinnate, palmate, or 1-veined, sometimes obscure. Inflorescences unisexual or bisexual, terminal or axillary, cymes, racemes, panicles, thyrses, or fascicles, or flowers solitary. Flowers bisexual or unisexual, radially symmetric or weakly asymmetric; perianth and androecium hypogynous or perigynous; hypanthium free, completely adnate to ovary, or absent; sepals (3–)4–5[–7], distinct or connate proximally; petals 0 or (3–)4–5[–7], distinct; nectary present, rudimentary, or absent; stamens 3–5[–10], distinct, free or adnate to nectary; anthers dehiscing by longitudinal slits; staminodes 0 or [4–]5[–7]; pistil 1, 1–5-carpellate, ovary superior often embedded in nectary to 1/2 inferior, 1–5-locular, placentation axile or parietal; ovules 1–2[–4] or 100–2000+ per locule, anatropous; styles 0, 1, or 3, connate proximally; stigmas 2–5. Fruits capsules, dehiscence loculicidal, drupes, or nutlike (small, hard-walled, indehiscent, 1-locular, and 1-seeded) [berries or samaras]. Seeds 1, 2, 40–70, or 100–2000+ per locule, often winged or covered by brightly colored pulpy aril.


North America, Mexico, West Indies, Central America, South America, Eurasia, Africa, Atlantic Islands, Indian Ocean Islands, Pacific Islands, Australia.


Genera ca. 100, species ca. 1400 (12 genera, 34 species in the flora).

As treated here, Celastraceae include Hippocrateaceae Jussieu and Parnassiaceae Martinov. Both DNA sequence data and morphology place Hippocratea and its relatives nested within Celastraceae as subfam. Hippocrateoideae Lindley (M. P. Simmons et al. 2001; Simmons 2004, 2004b). Placement of Parnassiaceae (Lepuropetalon and Parnassia) is less certain. The group has long been associated with Saxifragaceae (such as by J. D. Hooker 1865b, A. Cronquist 1981), but broad-scale phylogenetic analyses utilizing DNA sequences have aligned Parnassiaceae with Celastraceae, either as a sister family or as a basal member of Celastraceae (M. W. Chase et al. 1993; Simmons et al. 2001b; Simmons 2004; Zhang L. B. and Simmons 2006). Including Parnassiaceae within Celastraceae follows APGIII (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group 2009).

Glossopetalon (sometimes under the illegitimate name Forsellesia Greene), included within Celastraceae in many local floras in North America, belongs in Crossosomataceae (R. F. Thorne and R. Scogin 1978; V. Sosa and M. W. Chase 2003); see Flora of North America North of Mexico, volume 9, page 9.

Some members of Celastraceae are of economic importance. Species of Celastrus, Euonymus, Maytenus, and Paxistima are grown as ornamentals, and Euonymus, Hippocratea, and Maytenus have medicinal uses.


1 Herbs; staminodes opposite petals. > 2
2 Perennials; petals 3–22 mm, usually longer than sepals; stigmas 4; capsules 4-valved. Parnassia
2 Annuals; petals 0–0.4 mm, much shorter than sepals; stigmas 3; capsules 3-valved. Lepuropetalon
1 Shrubs, trees, or vines; staminodes alternate with petals or 0. > 3
3 Vines. > 4
4 Plants climbing by adventitious roots; sepals and petals 4; ovaries and capsules 4-locular. Euonymus
4 Plants twining or clambering; sepals and petals 5; ovaries and capsules 3-locular. > 5
5 Leaves opposite, persistent; seeds 5–6 per locule, winged, arils absent. Hippocratea
5 Leaves alternate, deciduous; seeds 2 per locule, not winged, arils red. Celastrus
3 Shrubs or trees. > 6
6 Leaves caducous, plants appearing leafless, blades 1–2 mm; fruits capsules, apices beaked. Canotia
6 Leaves deciduous or persistent, blades 3–160 mm; fruits capsules, drupes, or nutlike, apices not beaked except when nutlike. > 7
7 Leaves alternate or fascicled. > 8
8 Sepals, petals, and stamens 4; fruits drupes. Schaefferia
8 Sepals, petals, and stamens 5; fruits capsules or nutlike. > 9
9 Fruits capsules; arils red; inflorescences axillary; leaf blade venation pinnate. Maytenus
9 Fruits nutlike; arils absent; inflorescences terminal; leaf blades 1-veined. Mortonia
7 Leaves opposite or whorled. > 10
10 Leaves deciduous; arils yellow, orange, or red. Euonymus
10 Leaves persistent; arils white, yellow, or absent. > 11
11 Branchlets terete; ovaries 4-locular; stigmas 4; fruits red drupes. Crossopetalum
11 Branchlets 4-angled; ovaries 2-locular; stigmas 2; fruits capsules or bluish black drupes. > 12
12 Shrubs or trees, to 8 m; flowers unisexual (plants dioecious); fruits drupes. Gyminda
12 Shrubs, 0.1–1 m; flowers bisexual; fruits capsules. Paxistima
... more about "Celastraceae"
Jinshuang Ma +, Peter W. Ball +  and Geoffrey A. Levin +
R. Brown +
Staff-tree or Bittersweet Family +
North America +, Mexico +, West Indies +, Central America +, South America +, Eurasia +, Africa +, Atlantic Islands +, Indian Ocean Islands +, Pacific Islands +  and Australia. +
brizicky1964a +
Celastraceae +