Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Important Plant Families in South Africa - Euphorbiaceae

In order to facilitate the identification of our wealth of lovely South African trees, it is helpful to be familiar with the most prominent plant families in an area, as well as the characteristics that distinguish each plant family. Every month we will feature one of the most important and well represented plant families, focusing on easily recognisable features to assist identification.

Euphorbiaceae (Euphorbia family)

The Euphorbias are a huge family in Southern Africa comprising over 100 tree species. This heterogeneous species shows great variation in floral and vegetative structures.

The most well known genus of this important family is Euphorbia, the large, thorny, succulent plants with milky latex that are often mistaken for cactus. However, this family includes many plants that do not resemble cacti at all.

A common feature of the majority of the euphorbias is the presence of watery or white latex. With a few exceptions, all have simple, alternate leaves with a pair of glands at the base of the leaf blades as well as stipule scars.

Members of this large family usually produce three lobed fruits that are often crowned by three persistent stigmas.

A combination of toothed or serrated leaf margins, milky or watery latex and stem succulence define this family. Many are poisonous while some have medicinal properties.

Hevea brasiliensis is the most economically important of this family as most of the world’s natural rubber is obtained from it. In tropical countries, the starchy tubers of Manihot esculenta provide tapioca and cassava.

Examples of this family include; Croton gratissimus (Lavender fever – berry), Sapium ellipticum (Jumping seed tree), Antidesma venosum (Tassel berry), Pseudolachnostylis (Kudu berry), Dovyalis rhamnoides (Common sour berry).

Classification Euphorbia family

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