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What is Combretaceae?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Combretaceae is a member of the Myrtales order and is a relatively large family of flowering shrubs, trees and woody vines. This family consists of roughly 18 recognized genera and 600 species, and can be found throughout the tropics and subtropics. Many species of these plants are considered ornamental, but others, such as Terminalia ivorensis and Anogeissus leiocarpus, are sometimes used for such products as lumber or cosmetics.

One of the better known members of the Combretaceae family is the Lumnitzera genus. This genus, which can be found growing in the mangrove habitats of the Western Pacific and East Africa, bears two species that are distinctly similar in appearance. Both species typically bear drop-shaped leaves, but the leaves of Lumnitzera racemosa tend to be fleshier and brighter in hue, while Lumnitzera littorea generally has thinner, darker green leaves. They also vary in the colors of their flowers, one bearing white, the other red.

Conocarpus is another smaller genus of the Combretaceae family, also bearing only two species. Conocarpus erectus usually begins as a low-branched shrub that, if allowed to grow in ideal conditions, will sometimes form into a vase-shaped tree. On the other hand, Conocarpus lancifolius will generally grow quickly into a slender, medium-height tree — even under less than ideal conditions, such as heavy winds or drought.

Laguncularia is a slightly larger genus in the Combretaceae family that boasts about 10 different species. One of the best known species of this genus is the Laguncularia racemosa. This particular flowering tree has gray-brown bark; leathery, elliptical leaves; and white, bell-shaped blossoms. What makes this type so well known is its variety of uses, which range from carpentry and tanning, to folk remedies for dysentery and scurvy. Other members of the Laguncularia genus include Laguncularia pedicellata, rosea and lutea.

The genus Terminalia is one of the larger Combretaceae family members, which contains about 100 species of large trees that are often used in food products and folk remedies. Quisqualis, a genus of highly ornamental vines with bright red flowers, is also a member of the Combretaceae clan. In addition to being an attractive floral piece, this plant is occasionally utilized in traditional medicine. Bearing only eight species, the Anogeissus is one of the smaller genera in this particular family. Despite that, it is widely spread throughout Africa, South Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula and is frequently used for fabric printing and tanning.

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