What are plant families?

In this database, three taxonomic categories are featured prominently: family, genus, and species. Of these three, the family is the most inclusive group. Families frequently may correspond to well-known groups, such as grasses (Poaceae), orchids (Orchidaceae), mustards (Brassicaceae), or beans (Fabaceae). Note the way in which the scientific name of a family is formed: by the name of an included genus, or kind of plant, plus the ending -aceae. However, some families may also have older names that do not conform to this pattern (for instance, "Compositae" is an older name for the daisy family, Asteraceae). Where these occur they will be indicated parenthetically.

Members of a family typically share many morphological, chemical, or anatomical features that set them apart from other families. Many of the morphological features that, at least in part, define families are characteristics of their flowers or fruits, such as the arrangement of parts in a mustard flower (Brassicaceae), the pod of the bean family (Fabaceae), or the way in which the fruits of the parsley family (Apiaceae) come apart. These shared, derived features are often seen as evidence that members of a family share a single common ancestor, and so are monophyletic.

Further reading:
Davis & Heywood (1965), Radford et al. (1974), Reveal (1993), Zomlefer (1994)

Muskoka Flora - Index : Frequently Asked Questions : What are plant families?

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Last revision: 10 July 1996

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