Field of Science

The Cordia Clade

The tropics are home to a wide diversity of plant species, many of them belonging to groups less familiar in cooler regions of the world. Prominent among these are members of the family Cordiaceae, a group of about 350 known species of mostly trees and shrubs. The Cordiaceae (alternatively treated as the subfamily Cordioideae of the family Boraginaceae) are a well distinguished clade both molecularly and morphologically. Most members of the clade have flowers with the stigma divided between four lobes, fruits with an undivided endocarp, and plicate cotyledons (Miller & Gottschling 2007).

Beach cordia Cordia subcordata, copyright Tauʻolunga.

Historically, most members of the clade have been assigned to a single genus, Cordia. This arrangement was revised by Miller & Gottschling (2007) who recognised the separate genus Varronia for about 100 species of multi-stemmed shrubs native to the New World. The remaining 250 or so species, most of them single-trunked trees, remained in the pantropical Cordia. The two genera also generally differ in their leaves (most Varronia have leaves with serrate margins whereas Cordia have entire margins) and inflorescences (most Cordia have broad cymose inflorescences whereas Varronia have smaller, more compact inflorescences). Few species of Cordiaceae are not assigned to either Cordia or Varronia. Three previously recognised small genera, Auxemma, Patagonula and Saccellium, are now synonymised with Cordia. The small African genus Hoplestigma and the prostrate annual herb Coldenia procumbens are placed in Cordiaceae primarily on the basis of molecular data (Miller & Gottschling 2007; Weigend et al. 2014).

Black sage Varronia curassavica, copyright Mauricio Mercadante.

A number of Cordia species are grown for their wood, with South American species providing timbers known as bocote, freijo (C. alliodora), and ziricote (C. dodecandra). These are only moderately strong woods but strikingly patterned and are more often used for aesthetic rather than structural purposes (such as cabinet veneers and musical instruments). Cordia alliodora has become an invasive in regions where it has been planted outside its native range such as Africa and Vanuatu. Various species are also grown for their edible fruits, such as the Assyrian plum C. myxa and the fragrant manjack C. dichotoma. These fruits are decidedly gooey when ripe and are often given names reflecting this fact such as glue berries, clammy cherries or, here in Australia, snotty gobbles (though this name is more widely used for fruits of the unrelated genus Persoonia). Pulp from unripe fruits of C. myxa can supposedly also be used as a type of glue. Your office reports may not be informative but they will at least be tasty!


Miller, J. S., & M. Gottschling. 2007. Generic classification in the Cordiaceae (Boraginales): resurrection of the genus Varronia P. Br. Taxon 56 (1): 163–169.

Weigend, M., F. Luebert, M. Gottschling, T. L. P. Couvreur, H. H. Hilger & J. S. Miller. 2014. From capsules to nutlets—phylogenetic relationships in the Boraginales. Cladistics 30: 508–518.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS