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Genera : 300 +/-

Species: 7,500

Distribution: Tropical and in warmer regions world wide with some temperate species.


Economic Uses: Agriculturally as staple tropical crop - manioc (Manihot esculenta) and as source of rubber latex (Hevea). Imporatnt as ornamentals such as poinsettia and houseplants. Also as dyes, purgatives and timber.

Defining Features of Interest: Most distinctive feature is the milky or colored latex exuded by all species. Also of interest is the specialized inflorescence termed a 'cyathium'. The family is very diverse in growth forms exploiting various econiches. For example, some African forms are cacti-like in appearance.

Fossil Evidence: Fossil plant parts in the Paleocene and Eocene.

Defining Morphology

Floral Features : Actinomorphic and unisexual (monoecious or dioecious). Inflorescence can be various, but often in a specially compacted form; the cyathium, which has petal-like bracts ( an involucre) subtending an inflorescence of small flowers arranged so that there is one female flower surrounded by several male flowers. Hypogynous.

Fruit and Seed Features : Fruit is a capsule-like schizocarp or rarely a berry, drupe or samara. Seeds often with a fleshy outgrowth and with abundant endosperm. Placentation is axile and apical

Vegetative Features : Habit is as herbs, shrubs or trees with succulent stems. Leaves are simple, (rarely compound), and can be alternate, opposite or whorled.Stipules are present and are often gland-like.