Description: Trees or shrubs, or in Cassytha twining hemiparasitic herbs; usually aromatic in all parts.
Leaves mostly alternate, rarely opposite or whorled; simple, reduced to scales in Cassytha, entire [rarely lobed], often leathery, dotted with oil glands and aromatic when crushed; fine venation commonly areolate; stipules absent.
Inflorescence axillary, cymose to paniculate, rarely flowers solitary. Flowers actinomorphic, bisexual or unisexual, small; usually 3-merous, rarely 2- or 4-merous; commonly perigynous with a strongly developed receptacle [or rarely epigynous]; small, often greenish or whitish. Perianth segments usually 6 or 4 in 2 whorls, or 9 in 3 whorls, or perianth absent. Stamens often 9 (3–12, rarely more), filaments frequently with a pair of glands at the base; the innermost whorl often reduced to staminodes; anthers 2- or 4-locular, dehiscing by valves from the base upwards. Ovary usually superior with a single carpel, 1-locular with a solitary ovule; style simple.
Fruit a drupe or 1-seeded berry, sometimes the receptacle enlarging and enveloping the fruit but not fused to it.
Distribution and occurrence: World: c. 32 genera, 2500 species, widespread in tropical & subtropical regions, chiefly Seastern Asia & South America. Australia: 8 genera, c. 130 species, all States, mostly NE Qld to coastal N.S.W.
Angiosperm Phylogeny Website (Family: Lauraceae, Order: Laurales)
Many species contain aromatic oils of economic importance, for example, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees, yields oil of sassafras, and Cinnamomum camphora (L.) T.Nees & Eberm., camphor. The dried bark of C. zeylanicum Blume is the source of the spice cinnamon. The avocado, Persea americana Mill., is widely cultivated for its edible fruit. Some of the larger tree species in a number of genera are commercially important for timber.
Text by G. J. Harden
| ||Key to the genera|| |
|1||Trees or shrubs with well-developed leaves||2|
|Twining hemiparasitic herbs with leaves reduced to scales||Cassytha|
|2||Inflorescence surrounded by large bracts when young, sometimes falling by anthesis; perianth segments 0, 4, or 6||3|
|Inflorescence not surrounded by bracts; perianth segments 6|
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|3||Leaves not 3-veined from near base; flowers 3-merous, perianth segments 6 or 0; fruit surrounded by a cupular receptacle||Litsea|
|Leaves 3-veined, the basal pair of secondary veins extending to at least midway up the lamina; flowers 2-merous, perianth segments 4; fruit seated on a shallow disc-like receptacle|
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|4||Ovary completely surrounded by the receptacle, the receptacle in the fruiting stage enlarging and completely enclosing the fruit and giving the appearance of an inferior ovary||Cryptocarya|
|Ovary and fruit seated on, and usually partly surrounded by the receptacle, but not completely enclosed by it|
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|5||Fertile stamens usually 3, or rarely 4–6, staminodes present or absent; fine venation on leaves mostly areolate||Endiandra|
|Fertile stamens 6 or 9, usually with additional staminodes; fine venation on leaves not prominently areolate|
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|6||Perianth persistent on fruit; anthers 4-locular; leaves opposite or subopposite, or if alternate then 3-veined and domatia present||Cinnamomum|
|Perianth not persistent on fruit; anthers 2- or 4-locular; leaves alternate, not 3-veined, domatia absent|
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|7||Anthers 2-locular; most leaves less than 12 cm long, petiole less than 15 mm long; fruit less than 2 cm long||Beilschmiedia|
|Anthers 4-locular; most leaves more than 12 cm long, petiole more than 20 mm long; fruit more than 4 cm long|
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