Caryocaraceae Plant Family

About the Caryocaraceae or Caryocar Family

Caryocaraceae is a family of flowering plants that includes around 25 genera and over 200 species. Most species in this family are native to tropical regions of South America and Africa, although some are found in other parts of the world as well. The family includes trees, shrubs, and lianas, with many species being ecologically and economically important. Caryocaraceae is closely related to the Clusiaceae family and is sometimes considered a subfamily of Clusiaceae.

Taxonomy and Classification

Caryocaraceae is a family of flowering plants in the order Malpighiales. Within this order, it belongs to the Clusiaceae subclade, along with other families like Bonnetiaceae and Hypericaceae. The family includes around 25 genera, the most diverse of which is Caryocar, with over 100 species. Other notable genera include Anthodiscus, Couratari, and Gustavia. Some taxonomic studies have suggested that the closely related Lecythidaceae and Chrysobalanaceae families should be included within Caryocaraceae, although this is still debated among botanists.

Morphology and Characteristics

Plants in the Caryocaraceae family can take on various forms, including trees, shrubs, and climbing vines. They typically have simple leaves that are alternate or opposite and are often covered in glandular dots or hairs. The flowers of Caryocaraceae are usually large and showy, with five petals and numerous stamens. Many species have a sweet fragrance that attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies. The fruits of this family are often drupes, which are fleshy fruits with a single seed enclosed by a hard pit. Some species are known for their large edible fruits, such as Caryocar brasiliense, which produces a nut- fruit known as pequi. Other species, such as Caryocar villosum, produce oil- seeds that are used for cooking and medicinal purposes.

Distribution and Habitat

Most species in the Caryocaraceae family are native to tropical regions of South America and Africa. In South America, the family is particularly diverse in the Amazon Basin, the Cerrado savannas, and the Atlantic Forest. Some species are also found in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in various parts of Africa, including the Congo Basin and Madagascar. Caryocaraceae plants typically grow in a variety of habitats, such as rainforests, savannas, and riverine forests. Many species are adapted to poor soils and dry periods, while others require consistent moisture. Some members of the family, like Anthodiscus chocoensis, are rare and have limited distributions, making them vulnerable to habitat loss and other threats.

Economic and Ecological Importance

The Caryocaraceae family includes several species that have important economic and ecological roles. Some species, like Caryocar brasiliense (pequi) and Caryocar villosum, have edible fruits or oil- seeds that are used for cooking or processing into cosmetics and other products. Other species, like Couratari guianensis (cannonball tree), have valuable timber or medicinal properties. Plants in this family also play important ecological roles, providing habitat and food sources for various animals, including birds and primates. One example is Annona cacans, which supports the larvae of a butterfly species known as Heliconius doris. Additionally, some Caryocaraceae plants, such as Gustavia superba, have cultural significance in local communities and are used in traditional medicine. However, some species are threatened by habitat destruction and overexploitation and require conservation efforts to ensure their survival.

Notable Species

Some notable species in the Caryocaraceae family include:

  • Caryocar brasiliense (pequi): A tree native to the Cerrado savannas of Brazil that produces a nut- fruit with a hard shell and edible pulp. Pequi is a popular ingredient in traditional Brazilian cuisine and is also used for its oil, which has anti- properties.

  • Couratari guianensis (cannonball tree): A large tree found in South America with a distinctive round fruit that resembles a cannonball. The wood of this tree is prized for its strength and durability and is used for construction and furniture- Various parts of the tree also have medicinal uses.

  • Anthodiscus chocoensis: A rare shrub or small tree found only in the Chocó region of Colombia and Ecuador. This plant has unique leaf glands that secrete sweet nectar and attract ants, which provide protection from herbivores and may help with pollination.

  • Gustavia superba: A tall tree found in rainforests of Central and South America, with fragrant flowers that are pollinated by bats. This species is culturally important to indigenous groups in the Amazon, who use the bark and leaves for various medicinal purposes.

  • Caryocar villosum: A tree found in the Amazon Basin that produces seeds rich in oil that are used for cooking and as a source of biodiesel. The seeds also have medicinal properties and are used in traditional medicine.