Tree Families

Tree Families

Tree Families


Plant classification started in the time of  Aristotle, scientifically structured in the 18th century, and has  evolved continuously from that time. The development of molecular science and DNA has helped to more accurately classify plants.  

Trees belong to families, and like most families, members of the same family share characteristics.  If you know the family of a tree, you will have a better understanding  of how the tree grows, its characteristics and its identification. So, for example, if you know a tree belongs to the legume family (now the Fabaceae) it is likely to fix nitrogen;  or a tree belonging to the Bombacaceae (now the Malvaceae) species, might yield useful seed products.  

Below you will see the main family groups and a short description of the family characteristic. 

Anacardiaceae Family

Characteristics: Often has watery latex. Leaves are imparipinnate, opposite or alternate. 

Apocynaceae Family

Characteristics: Watery latex, leaves alternate of whorled

Balanitaceae Family

Characteristics: Spiny, leaves compound with two asymmetric leaflets, fruit a leathery drupe.

Bignoniaceae Family

Characteristics: Leaves are compound, pinnate, opposite or whorled. Large flowers

Bombacaceae Family sub family of the Malvacea

Characteristics: Leaves are palmate, digitate, 3 – 5 leaflets, alternate. 

Boraginaceae Family

Characteristics: Leaves simple and alternate  and rough texture

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Fabaceae Caesalpinoideae Family

Characteristics: A large family with extensive representation in miombo woodland. Leaves alternate, usually 1-pinnate, fruit a pod, often dehiscent.

Combretaceae Family

Cahracteristics: Leaves simple, entire, alternate, opposite, or whorled, fruit a 2 – 5 winged capsule.

Ebenaceae Family

Characteristics: Leaves leathery, usually alternate, sub-opposite, or whorled, fruit a berry.

Euphorbiaceae Family

Characteristics: A large family with milky latex, leaves alternate sometimes with toothed margins, monoecious or dioecious, fruit capsular or a drupe.

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Malvaceae Family

Characteristics: A diverse family is still under discussion. Leaves simple, alternate, elliptic, digitate 3- to 7-foliate from the base, monoecious, fruit a woody capsule.

Meliaceae Family

Characteristics: A diverse family, leaves alternate, simple or imparipinnately compound (opposite or sub-opposite leaflets), monoecious, or dioecious, fruit a capsule (some with winged seeds), or drupe. 

Moraceae Family FICUS

Characteristics: A diverse family with milky latex, leaves mostly alternate, lobed or unlobed, monoecious or dioecious, fruit fleshy, sometimes edible.

Myrtaceae Family


Oleaceae Family


Fabaceae Papilionoideae Family

Characteristics: Leaves alternate, usually pinnate, or 3-foliolate, fruit a variety of pods, seeds without areoles.

Rhamnaceae Family

Characteristics: Leaves simple, alternate, sometimes opposite, sometimes thorny, fruit a drupe or capsule, some edible. 

Simaroubaceae Family

Characteristics: Leaves alternate and imparrinate. Monoecios. Fruit is a wide angled capsule. 

Sterculiaceae Family



Characteristics: Trees, Leaves simple, ovate, alternate, 3-veined from the base, margin serrated, monoecious, or, dioecious, fruit small, spherical.