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Mallow Family

Malvaviscus arboreus Cav., a shrub in the Malvaceae. Note the palmately veined leaves and the columns of fused stamens in the flowers. Un arbusto. Note la nervación palmada de las hojas, y en las flores, la columna de estambres fusionados.

Description: Malvaceae range in habit from weedy herbs to soft-wooded trees. Most of the Malvalean herbs belong to this family. Malvaceae generally have broader leaves than Sterculiaceae and Tiliaceae, and they are often serrate or lobed. Malvaceae flowers are distinctive due to their fused column of stamens (think of Hibiscus).

Economic uses: Cola acuminata, or kola nut, is a caffeine-containing stimulant native to West Africa and grown widely in the tropics. Hibiscus is a common ornamental throughout the tropics.

Descripción: El hábito de las Malvaceas varía desde hierbas hasta árboles de madera suave. La mayoría de las hierbas en el orden Malvales son de esta familia. Las Malvaceas usualmente tienen hojas más anchas que las de las Sterculiaceas y las Tiliaceas, y tienen muchas veces lóbulos o márgenes serrados.

Usos económicos: La semilla de Cola acuminata, o nuez de cola, es un estimulante que contiene cafeína. El árbol es nativo al oeste de África, pero se cultiva en muchas zonas tropicales. Hibiscus es una planta ornamental de gran importancia.

Genera/species at La Selva: 10/15: Herbs/ hierbas: Abelmoschus(1), Malachra (1), Pavonia (3), Urena (1), Sida (4), Wissadula (1) Shrubs/ arbustos: Hibiscus (1), Malvaviscus (1) Trees/ árboles: Cola (1), Hampea (1)

Based on similar vegetative and flower characteristics, and reinforced by recent molecular analyses, several families from the order Malvales have been lumped together within the family Malvaceae. We call this large group “Malvaceae sensu lato”. The old families now contained within this group include Bombaceace, Sterculiaceae, Malvaceae, Tiliaceae, and Eleocarpaceae. When referring to the old families and the features that distinguish them we attach the term “sensu stricto.”

FIELD MARKS – Malvaceae sensu lato – alternate, simple or palmately compound leaves with serrate leaf margins, 3 (or more) main veins starting from base of leaf blade (palmate venation), stellate hairs, stipules, mucilage (chew on petiole and then feel with fingers for mucilage), bark peels in long strings, fruit mostly capsules. These traits are easily observed in all of the families in this large group. The differences among the families are found in the fruits, flower details, and leaf shapes.


  • Ceiba, Ochroma


  • Guazuma, Theobroma


  • Malvaviscus, Hampea


  • Apieba, Goethalsia, Trichospermum

Eleocarpaceae (not included in RainforestPlants)

FIELD MARKS – Malvaceae sensu stricto flower includes a calyx plus epicalyx (double calyx) that is usually green, tube of monadelphus stamens (joined along filaments) is long and well defined.

Hibiscus stem.
Underside of Hibiscus leaf with palmate venation highlighted in red.
Hibiscus flower showing double calyx and monadelphus stamens.
Hampea stem – note how bark peels in a long string.
Hairy brown underside of Hampea leaf featuring three major veins originating at base of leaf and three prominent nectaries.
Flowering twig of Hampea.

< < Previous family: Malpighiaceae
Next family: Marantaceae > >
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