Description: Shrubs or trees, sometimes scramblers, rarely (in the New World) lianas, often evergreen; indument various, the hairs unicellular, stellate or peltate, sometimes glandular (Cadaba, not in N.S.W.).
Leaves usually alternate, distichous to spiral and clustered, simple or unifoliolate and pulvinate, rarely palmately trifoliolate (Crateva, not in N.S.W.); margins entire; petioles usually present; stipules usually spiny, sometimes minute and falling early or absent. Juvenile leaves often different from the adult foliage, sometimes leaves absent and branches cladode-like at maturity (Apophyllum).
Inflorescence a terminal raceme (sometimes on laterals), rarely a panicle or corymb, or flowers solitary, axillary. Flowers actinomorphic, sometimes slightly zygomorphic, usually bisexual (Apophyllum dioecious), usually 4-merous. Sepals usually in 2 whorls of 2. Petals usually 4, sometimes clawed (not in N.S.W.). Stamens 1–many, free or sometimes connate with each other at base and adnate to gynophore to form androgynophore; anthers 2-locular, dehiscing by longitudinal slits. Nectariferous disc sometimes present between stamens and ovary. Ovary superior, usually on a gynophore, carpels unilocular; placentas usually 2–4, parietal; ovules 1–many; stigma ± sessile.
Fruit usually a berry, rarely (not in N.S.W.) a capsule. Seeds 1 to many, globose to ovoid, ellipsoid, or reniform; testa shallowly or not invaginated; aril often present.
Distribution and occurrence: World: c.16 genera, c. 435 species, tropical & subtropical regions. Australia: 4 genera, c.24 species, W.A., N.T. (native and doubtfully naturalised), S.A., Qld., N.S.W., Norfolk Is.
Angiosperm Phylogeny Website (Family: Capparaceae, Order: Brassicales)
Several genera formerly in Capparaceae are now placed in Cleomaceae, including Cleome and Polanisia. Generic concepts have also changed, with N.S.W. species formerly placed in Cleome now in Arivela, Sieruela or Tarenaya.
The pickled flower buds of Capparis spinosa L. (called capers) are used for garnishing or seasoning. Species of Apophyllum and Capparis are hosts for the larvae of the Caper White Butterfly, Anaphaeis java teutonia.
Text by G. J. Harden; revised by Kerry Gibbons 11 May 2023.
Taxon concept: APG IV. From G.J. Harden, H.J. Hewson in Flora of Australia Online [accessed 11 May 2023], Iltis et al. 2011 Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 98(1) : 28–36.
| ||Key to the genera|| |
|1||Plants always leafy, leaves mostly more than 15 mm long, or if less then ovate to broad-ovate; flowers bisexual; berry many-seeded||Capparis|
|Plants often apparently leafless, leaves usually present on new growth but less than 15 mm long and more or less linear; flowers unisexual, plants dioecious; berry 1- or 2-seeded||Apophyllum|