RUBIACEAE - The Bedstraw Family

This is one of the largest flowering plant families, with around 7000 species, most of them occuring in tropical regions of the world, where they are mainly woody trees and shrubs. A few occur in temperate regions, when they are herbaceous. In the tropics, many have economic uses - Coffee (Coffea arabica), Quinine (Cinchona), or are conspicuous ornamentals (Ixora, Gardenia), but in temperate areas, they are often small plants with inconspicuous flowers, or even weeds (Asperula, Galium). Some members of the Family are grown for use as medicine (ipecacuanha) or dyes.

Characteristics of this Plant Family:

Leaves, Stem & Roots ~ In many tropical species, the plants are woody and evergreen. The leaves are simple and usually entire, occurring opposite one another or in whorls. The presence of stipules is a characteristic of this Family. In temperate regions, plants are herbaceous, and may have 4-angled, prostrate or prickly stems and leaves (especially in the temperate species Galium). Some species have calcium oxylate in the leaves.

Flowers ~ There are usually four or five unjoined sepals, and four or five joined petals, usually borne in panicles or in congested heads. There are four or five stamens. In temperate species, the flowers are often small and insignificant, in pale colours, but in tropical species they are often large and brightly coloured.

Seeds ~ The ovary is usually inferior, and the fruit may be a capsule, berry, drupe or schizocarp. Sometimes, the seeds are winged.

Members of this Family usually have:

Many small flowers in dense clustered heads
Leaves opposite or in whorls
Inferior ovary

and are usually woody trees and shrubs in tropical areas, or small herbaceous plants in temperate zones

Back to the Introduction to Plant Families