Details of selected plant families

View photos of these families at UW class web site:

select “Family review slides” from left column under Review & Study.


Kingdom Plantae


Phylum Magnoliophyta (Angiosperms)


    Class Magnoliopsida (Dicots)


Magnoliaceae Magnolia Family


Habit: Trees/shrubs

Leaves: simple, entire margins

Flowers: Tepals, all parts numerous, separate and spiral; laminar stamens

Fruit: samara, follicle

Other: circular stipular scars

Economic: ornamental use


Berberidaceae Barberry Family


Habit: herbs, shrubs

Leaves: simple or pinnately compound

Flowers: perianth 6, stamens with valvate anthers

Fruit: Berry

Economic: minor ornamental use


Ranunculaceae Buttercup Family


Habit: herbs

Leaves: simple, lobed to compound

Flowers: perianth 5 or numerous, male and female numerous, spiral, most actinomorphic

Fruit: variable, mostly achenes or follicles

Economic: minor ornamental use


Violaceae Violet Family


Habit: herbs (woody plants in tropics)

Leaves: simple, cordate

Flowers: perianth 5, most zygomorphic, lower petal spurred, lower 2 stamens in spur produce nectar; summer flowers are cleistogamous

Fruit: capsule

Economic: ornamental use, fragrance


Salicaceae Willow Family


Habit: Trees/shrubs

Leaves: simple, alternate

Flowers: dioecious, both sexes in aments

Fruit: capsule, seeds hairy (like in pussy-willows)

Other: abundant vegetative reproduction, easily propagates by root sprouts and broken stems/branches.

Economic: timber for pulp (paper), hybrid poplars in plantations, some ornamental use


Fabaceae Pea Family


Habit: tropical woody plants, temperate herbs

Leaves: mostly pinnately compound, terminal leaflets may be tendrils

Flowers: zygomorphic papilionaceous flowers (5 petals: 1 as standard, 2 as wings, 2 as keel), or occasionally actinomorphic

Fruit: legume

Other: grow in symbiosis with Rhizobium, nitrogen-fixing bacteria; third largest family of angiosperms, with 14,000-20,000 species; old family name is Leguminosae

Economic: crops (peas, beans, soy, alfalfa, clover, peanuts, etc.)


Rosaceae Rose Family


Habit: mostly woody (sometimes herbs)

Leaves: often pinnately compound, stipules, serrate

Flowers: perianth 5-parted, stamens often numerous

Fruit: pome, drupe, achene, follicle (or variation on these)

         each can be considered a separate sub-family

Economic: fruits (apple, peach, pear, plum, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, etc.), ornamental use, fragrance


Fagaceae Beech Family


Habit: trees, shrubs

Leaves: simple, alternate, entire to lobed

Flowers: monoecious, male in aments, female solitary

Fruit: nut with bracts (involucre)

Economic: lumber


Betulaceae Birch Family


Habit: Trees, shrubs

Leaves: simple, alternate, serrated

Flowers: monoecious, male and female on separate aments, male ament preformed

Fruit: nut, samara

Economic: lumber, filberts


Brassicaceae Mustard Family


Habit: herbs

Leaves: simple, alternate, often basal

Flowers: perianth 4, stamens: 4 long, 2 short

Fruit: silicle, silique

Other: pungent watery juice; old name for family is Cruciferae from corolla resembling a cross

Economic: many common vegetables from this family (mustard, broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.)


Aceraceae Maple Family


Habit: Trees, shrubs

Leaves: simple, opposite, palmately lobed

Flowers: with or without perianth, inflorescence variable

Fruit: double samara

Economic: lumber, syrup


Asteraceae Aster Family


Habit: Mostly herbs, sometimes shubs or trees

Leaves: Simple

Flowers: Inflorescence a head, surrounded by involucral bracts. Flowers on a receptacle that may be rounded, flattened or columnar. Two types of flowers: disk and ray in combination or alone.

Fruit: Inferior ovary, achene, sometimes with pappus (from calyx) still attached to aid dispersal by the wind (dandelion seeds)

Other: One of the two largest angiosperm families (depends on how you count). Old name for family is Compositae, referring to the composite inflorescence.

Economic: ornamentals, crops (sunflowers, lettuce, artichoke, etc.)


Ericaceae Heath Family


Habit: shrubs, small trees

Leaves: simple, often leathery and persistent

Flowers: perfect, petals completely or partially fused, actinomorphic or slightly zygomorphic

Fruit: capsule, berry

Other: many bog plants; includes state flower

Economic: berries (blueberries, cranberries), ornamental use


Lamiaceae Mint Family


Habit: woody, herbs

Leaves: often opposite, decussate

Flowers: zygomorphic, bilabiate

Fruit: 4 nutlets

Other: often square stems, often aromatic. Old name for family is Labiatae (corolla has upper and lower lips).

Economic: herbs (basil, thyme, mint, rosemary, sage, lavender, etc.) and ornamental use


Solanaceae Potato Family


Habit: herbs

Leaves: alternate, simple

Flowers: anthers open by terminal pores (buzz pollination)

Fruit: most berry, petunias=capsule

Economic: crops (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell and chili peppers, tobacco), ornamentals


Apiaceae Carrot Family


Habit: mostly perennial herbs

Leaves: usually compound, alternate, with sheathing bases

Flowers: Inflorescence an umbel or compound umbel. Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic, inferior ovary.

Fruit: schizocarpous capsule, separating into 2 one-seeded segments.

Other: old name is Umbelliferae

Economic: crops (carrot, dill, parsley, turnip)



 Class Liliopsida (Monocots)


Araceae Arum Family


Habit: mostly herbaceous

Leaves: Simple with membranous sheathing bases

Flowers: Inflorescence a spadix surrounded by herbaceous spathe. Perfect, often with a fetid smell.  Pollenated by flies.

Fruit: Berry

Other: Sap watery or milky. Calcium oxalate crystals usually present - deters predators.

Economic: ornamental use (Calla lily)


Liliaceae Lily Family


Habit: Usually herbs

Leaves: Linear or strap-shaped, often basal

Flowers: bisexual, usually actinomorphic, usually has 6 tepals

Fruit: capsule, berry

Other: often has modified underground stems: rhizomes, bulbs, corms.

Economic: ornamental (lilies, tulips, …) and food (onions, garlic, asparagus)


Orchidaceae Orchid Family


Habit: herbaceous perennials

Flowers: bisexual, zygomorphic. sepals 3, petals 3, one petal modified as a labellum (landing platform for insects). Pollen in pollinea.

Fruit: Capsule, seeds are tiny and require mycorrhizal fungi to germinate.

Other: Epiphytes with swollen stems (pseudobulbs) and aerial roots covered with velamen to absorb and store water. One of the largest families, mostly in the tropics. Many species are specific to one pollinator.

Economic: ornamental, vanilla


Iridaceae Iris Family


Habit: Herbs

Leaves: Simple, mostly basal and linear, 2-ranked

Flowers: Perfect; 3 sepals often showier than the 3 petals, 3 stamens opposite sepals, styles are often winged and petaloid.

Fruit: Capsule

Other: often has modified underground stems: rhizomes, bulbs, corms.

Economic: ornamental, saffron (spice from stamens of crocus)


Juncaceae Rush Family


Habit: Herbs

Leaves: Basal, forming tufts, 3-ranked, sheaths closed

Flowers: bisexual, actinomorphic. Resemble miniature lilies.

Fruit: capsule

Other: stems are round and solid

Economic: none


Cyperaceae Sedge Family


Habit: Herbs

Leaves: 3-ranked, leaf sheaths closed

Flowers: inflorescence a spikelet, flowers axillary & subtended by scale or bract. 

Fruit: achene

Other: Stems triangular ("sedges have edges") and solid. Biggest genus in this family is Carex.

Economic: none


Poaceae Grass Family


Habit: herbs with fibrous roots

Leaves: 2-ranked, leaf sheaths open, ligule at junction of sheath and blade

Flowers: Inflorescence a spikelet composed of two lower bracts called glumes with one or more florets above - each floret consisting of a lemma, palea, lodicules, stamens, a single gynoecium.

Fruit: caryopsis (grain)

Other: Stems round and hollow.  Most widely distributed family.  The old name for family is Gramineae.

Economic: the most economically important – grains (wheat, rice, corn, barley, oats)