DELTA home

The families of flowering plants

L. Watson and M.J. Dallwitz

Ebenaceae Gurke

Including Diospyraceae Van Tiegh., Guaiacanae (Guaiacanaceae) Juss., Styraceae (Styracaceae) Spreng. (p.p.); excluding Lissocarpaceae.

Habit and leaf form. Trees, or shrubs (or rarely ‘subshrubs’). Mesophytic. Leaves alternate (usually), or opposite, or whorled; usually spiral; leathery; petiolate; non-sheathing; simple. Lamina entire; pinnately veined; cross-venulate. Leaves exstipulate.

Leaf anatomy. The leaf lamina dorsiventral (usually), or bifacial. Stomata usually mainly confined to one surface (abaxial); anomocytic. Hairs present (mostly unicellular, occasionally 2-armed, occasionally in tufts); eglandular and glandular (the latter comprising a curved, uniseriate stalk and a few-celled head). Adaxial hypodermis present (rarely), or absent. Lamina without secretory cavities (but secretory cells with probably tanniniferous contents common). The mesophyll with sclerenchymatous idioblasts (especially in Diospyros), or without sclerenchymatous idioblasts; usually containing crystals. The crystals druses, or solitary-prismatic (but mostly solitary). Minor leaf veins without phloem transfer cells (Diospyros).

Axial (stem, wood) anatomy. Cork cambium present; initially deep-seated, or initially superficial. Nodes unilacunar, or tri-lacunar. Primary vascular tissues in a cylinder, without separate bundles; collateral. Secondary thickening developing from a conventional cambial ring. Primary medullary rays narrow.

The wood semi-ring porous (rarely), or diffuse porous. The vessels typically medium; solitary and radially paired, or in radial multiples, or in tangential arcs. The vessel end-walls simple. The vessels without vestured pits; without spiral thickening. The axial xylem with fibre tracheids, or without fibre tracheids; with libriform fibres, or without libriform fibres; without septate fibres. The fibres without spiral thickening. The parenchyma apotracheal; wood storied (some Diospyros spp.), or partially storied (?), or not storied (?). Tyloses present, or absent.

Reproductive type, pollination. Plants dioecious (mostly), or hermaphrodite (rarely). Female flowers with staminodes, or without staminodes (less often). Gynoecium of male flowers pistillodial, or vestigial, or absent.

Inflorescence, floral, fruit and seed morphology. Flowers solitary (especially when female), or aggregated in ‘inflorescences’; in cymes. The ultimate inflorescence units cymose. Inflorescences axillary; small cymes. Flowers bracteolate; small; regular; (2–)3–5(–7) merous; cyclic; tetracyclic, or pentacyclic. Free hypanthium absent.

Perianth with distinct calyx and corolla; 6–14; 2 whorled; isomerous. Calyx 3–7; 1 whorled; gamosepalous; blunt-lobed; regular; persistent; often accrescent (around the fruit), or non-accrescent; imbricate, or valvate. Corolla 3–7; 1 whorled; gamopetalous; lobes contorted; tubular, or campanulate, or urceolate, or vase-shaped; regular; white, or yellow (or cream), or pink.

Androecium 3–28 (or more?). Androecial members branched, or unbranched; free of the perianth, or adnate (epipetalous at the base of the tube), or free of the perianth and adnate; free of one another, or coherent (often paired, by branching); 1 whorled, or 2 whorled, or 3 whorled, or 4 whorled. Androecium exclusively of fertile stamens, or including staminodes. Stamens 3–28 (or more?); inserted when epipetalous, near the base of the corolla tube; reduced in number relative to the adjacent perianth to isomerous with the perianth (rarely), or diplostemonous to polystemonous (one to four times the number of C lobes); oppositisepalous. Anthers dehiscing via pores (apical), or dehiscing via longitudinal slits; introrse; tetrasporangiate. Endothecium not developing fibrous thickenings (in Diospyros kali). Microsporogenesis simultaneous. The initial microspore tetrads tetrahedral, or isobilateral, or decussate. Anther wall initially with more than one middle layer. Pollen grains aperturate; 3 aperturate; colporate; 2-celled.

Gynoecium 2–5(–16) carpelled. The pistil 4–30 celled. Gynoecium syncarpous; synovarious to synstylovarious; superior (Lissocarpa being referred to a separate family). Ovary 2–5(–16) locular (each locule partially divided by a false septum). Locules partially secondarily divided by ‘false septa’. Styles 2–5(–8); free, or partially joined; apical. Stigmas 2–8; 1–2 lobed; dry type; non-papillate; Group II type. Placentation apical. Ovules 2 per locule (the false septa separating the members of each pair); pendulous; apotropous; with dorsal raphe; non-arillate; anatropous; bitegmic; tenuinucellate. Outer integument not contributing to the micropyle. Endothelium differentiated. Embryo-sac development Polygonum-type. Polar nuclei fusing prior to fertilization (?), or not fusing. Antipodal cells formed; 3; not proliferating; ephemeral. Endosperm formation nuclear.

Fruit fleshy (usually), or non-fleshy (occasionally leathery); indehiscent (usually), or dehiscent (rarely tardily so); a berry, or a drupe, or a capsule (rarely). Capsules valvular. Seeds endospermic. Endosperm ruminate, or not ruminate; oily. Seeds large. Cotyledons 2. Embryo achlorophyllous (1/3); straight, or curved.

Seedling. Germination phanerocotylar, or cryptocotylar.

Physiology, phytochemistry. C3 (?), or CAM. CAM recorded directly in Maba (non-succulent, and dubious). Sugars transported as sucrose, or as sugar alcohols + oligosaccharides + sucrose (in different species of Diospyros). Cyanogenic (?), or not cyanogenic. Alkaloids present (rarely), or absent. Arbutin absent. Iridoids not detected. Saponins/sapogenins present. Proanthocyanidins present, or absent; delphinidin, or cyanidin and delphinidin. Flavonols present; kaempferol, or kaempferol and quercetin, or kaempferol, quercetin, and myricetin. Ellagic acid present, or absent (variable in Diospyros). Aluminium accumulation not found.

Geography, cytology. Temperate (a few), sub-tropical to tropical (mainly). Pantropical, especially Indomalayan, with a few temperate outliers. X = 15.

Taxonomy. Subclass Dicotyledonae; Tenuinucelli. Dahlgren’s Superorder Primuliflorae; Ebenales. Cronquist’s Subclass Dilleniidae; Ebenales. APG III core angiosperms; core eudicot; Superorder Asteranae. APG IV Order Ericales.

Species 500. Genera 2; Diospyros, Euclea.

Economic uses, etc. Important sources of timber (ebony) and fruits (mabolo, persimmon).


Is ebony like her? O wood divine!
(‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, iv., 3)

Illustrations. • Diospyros cordifolia: R. Wight 2 (1850). • Diospyros maingayi, as D. bilocularis: Hook. Ic. Pl. 24 (1894). • Le Maout and Decaisne: Diospyros. • Diospyros vera, as Maba buxifolia: Thonner. • Diospyros foliosa as Maba elliptica: Lindley. • Diospyros racemosa: R. Wight, Ic. Pl. Indiae Orientalis 2 (1843). • Euclea racemosa subsp. schimperi, as E. bilocularis: Hook. Ic. Pl. 16 (1887).

We advise against extracting comparative information from the descriptions. This is much more easily achieved using the DELTA data files or the interactive key, which allows access to the character list, illustrations, full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, distributions of character states within any set of taxa, geographical distribution, genera included in each family, and classifications (Dahlgren; Dahlgren, Clifford, and Yeo; Cronquist; APG). See also Guidelines for using data taken from Web publications.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 1992 onwards. The families of flowering plants: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. Version: 5th March 2018.’.