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Black Mouth Family

Conostegia micrantha Standl., an understory tree in the Melastomataceae. Note and learn this venation pattern, and you’ll be able to identify 95% of the Melastomataceae to family. Un arból del subdosel. Note y aprende bien este patron de venas, y podrá identificar un 95% de las Melastomataceas hasta el nivel de la familia.

Description: A family of trees, shrubs, herbs, and occasionally lianas, with simple opposite leaves with a very characteristic venation pattern. The main veins (usually 5-9) are palmate at the leaf base, and the secondary veins between them are scalariform (i.e., parallel and regularly spaced like a ladder). Many species have abundant trichomes, and several understory herbs in the family have ant domatia in their leaf bases. Some Melastomataceae (particularly Mouriri) can be confused with Rubiaceae (particularly Faramea), but Rubiaceae have conspicuous interpetiolar stipules (see the illustration for Rubiaceae, or p. 722 in Gentry 1993). Identifying melastomes to family is very easy, but genera and species can be extremely hard to identify. Most are defined by fruit and floral characters.

Economic uses: Occasionally grown as an ornamental. Their fruit is attractive to many bird species.

Descripción: Una familia de árboles, arbustos, hierbas, y a veces bejucos, con hojas simples y opuestas con un patrón de nervación muy llamativo. Las venas principales, usualmente 5-9, son palmadas en la base de la hoja, y las venas secundarias son escalariformes (es decir, paralelas y uniformes como los pasos de una escalera). Muchas especies tienen pelos abundantes, y algunas hierbas del sotobosque presentan formicarios en la base de la hoja. Algunas Melastomataceas (especialmente el genero Mouriri) se puede confundir con Rubiaceas (especialmente Faramea), pero las Rubiaceas tienen estípulas interpeciolares muy evidentes (ver el dibujo para Rubiaceas, o p. 722 en Gentry 1993). Es fácil identificar la familia Melastomataceae, pero puede ser difícil identificar los géneros y las especies. Muchas veces se necesitan flores y frutos.

Usos económicos: Algunos especies se cultivan para ornamentales. Tienen frutos que se alimentan muchas aves.

Genera/species at La Selva: 19/76: Herbs/ hierbas: Aciotis (2), Arthrostemma (1), Centradenia (1), Triolena (1), Nepsera (1) Shrubs/ arbustos: Blakea (1), Clidemia (14), Conostegia (some of the 8), Graffenrieda (1), Henriettella (1), Leandra (5), Miconia (some of the 28), Ossaea (5), Tibouchina (1), Tococa (1), Topobea (2) Lianas/ bejucos: Adelobotrys (1) Trees (usually understory)/ árboles, usualmente del subdosel: Bellucia (1), Conostegia (some of the 8), Miconia (some of the 28), Mouriri (1).

FIELD CHARACTERISTICS – opposite, simple leaves, primary veins curvinerved (originate near leaf base and converge at leaf tip), secondary veins scalariform (ladder-like pattern), mostly shrubs.

Typical melastome leaf with three main veins originating at the base and spreading out before converging at the tip. Secondary veins form a ladder-like pattern. If you see a leaf that looks like this, then it’s a melastome!
Characteristic leaves of the Melastomataceae
Many melastome fruits are edible. The tendancy for these blue/black fruits (Miconia) to discolor the mouth gave rise to the family name that literally means “black mouth.”
Clidemia with white flowers and hairy leaves.
Conostegia stem and close-up of fruits. Cup-like receptacle distinguishes this genus.
Conostegia stem and close-up of fruits. Cup-like receptacle distinguishes this genus.
Conostegia with opposite leaves and distinctive venation.
Conostegia inflorescence.
Miconia nervosa with red stalk bearing white fuzzy flowers and fruits that turn purple when ripe. Note the purple leaf hairs.
Ripe Miconia fruit.


  • Denslow, J.S., A.M Ellison, & R.E Sanford. 1998. Treefall gap size effects on above- and below-ground processes in a tropical wet forest. Journal of Ecology. 86. 597-609.

< < Previous family: Marantaceae
Next family: Meliaceae > >
How to Examine a PlantPlant Family ListKey to Plant FamiliesTop Ten ListsThe MatrixNavigation Bar.jpg