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Trees, shrubs, lianas, or less often herbaceous vines. Stems of climbing species usually with multiple vascular cylinders, and very often with white, milky latex. Stipules minute to large, present only in climbing species. Leaves pinnately or ternately compound, rarely simple or unifoliolate, alternate, spirally arranged, or rarely opposite; leaf rachis of most arborescent species with a distal process (rudimentary leaflet). Inflorescence axillary (usually solitary), distal, or cauliflorous (usually fascicled), racemose, paniculate, or spicate thyrses, with lateraldichasial or cincinnal cymes; peduncles angled to terete, bracts and bracteoles usually inconspicuous; pedicels usually articulate near the base. Flowers actinomorphic or zygomorphic, seemingly bisexual but functionally unisexual, plants dichogamous, monoecious, or dioecious; sepals 4-5, distinct or connate to various degrees; petals 4-5, rarely wanting, distinct, usually white or cream, with an adnate appendage on their adaxial surface, or the petals auriculate (conduplicate basal margins); petal’s appendage petaloid, simple, bifurcate, or hood-shaped with a fleshy crest, variously pubescent; disc extrastaminal, annular or unilateral, entire or lobed; stamens (4-7) 8 (10), the filaments equal or unequal in length, free or connate at base, the anthers dorsifixed or basifixed, introrsely opening by longitudinal slits; ovary superior, of (2)3(-5)connate carpels, usually with same number of locules as carpels, the style usually present, the stigmas elongated or capitate; placentation axial, ovules 1 or less often 2(-8) per locule. Fruits capsules, schizocarps, or indehiscent and baccate, winged or unwinged, sometimes echinate. Seeds usually one per locule, or less often two, exarillate, arillate, or with a fleshy testa.


Guianas present, Neotropics present, subtemperate zones present, subtropical present, tropical present
One hundred and forty one genera and about 2,000 species, mostly tropical or subtropical with a few genera in the subtemperate zones; in the Neotropics 38 genera and about 800 species, in the Guianas 22 genera and 114 species (115 taxa).


Sapindaceae is the source of numerous products, some of which are economically important. These include edible fruits such as litchi (Litchi sinensis), longan (Dimocarpus longan), keneep or genip (Melicoccus bijugatus), wild genip, pitomba (M. oliviformis) and ackee (Blighia sapida) all of which are cultivated in the Guianas. Numerous species of Paullinia have been reported to be useful in the preparation of medicines, caffeine-rich beverages, binding and weaving material, and for fish, human and arrow poisoning (Beck 1990). The seeds of Paullinia cupana are the source of the important Brazilian crop guaraná, a source of caffeine and flavoring of soft drinks. Almost all Sapindaceae are used around the tropics for fish poisoning (Radlkofer 1886; Acevedo-Rodríguez 1990). Species of Cupania, Euphorianthus, Harpullia, Schleichera, and Talisia are sometimes used for timber, among these, the Morabali (Talisia squarrosa) is an important timber tree in Guyana. Numerous genera are grown as ornamentals, in tropical and temperate areas, including species of Acer, Arfeuillea, Allophylus, Cardiospermum, Filicium, Harpullia, Koelreuteria, Sapindus, and Xanthoceras.


  • Allophylus acutatus Radlk.
  • Allophylus edulis (St. Hil. & al.) Hieron. ex Niederlein
  • Allophylus edulis (St. Hil. et al.) Hieron. var. gracilis Radlk.
  • Allophylus occidentalis f. mollis Radlk.
  • Cardiospermum acuminatum Miq.
  • Cupania hirsuta Radlk.
  • Cupania macrostylis (Radlk.) Acev.-Rodr.
  • Dodonaea viscosa Jacq.
  • Matayba camptoneura Radlk.
  • Matayba guianensis Aubl. f. genuina Radlk. subf. subovalis Radlk.
  • Matayba inelegans Radlk.
  • Matayba laevigata Radlk.
  • Matayba macrolepis Radlk.
  • Matayba opaca Radlk.
  • Matayba stenodictya Radlk.
  • Porocystis toulicioides Radlk.
  • Paullinia caloptera Radlk.
  • Paullinia dasygonia Radlk.
  • Paullinia fasciculata Radlk.
  • Paullinia fuscescens f. intermedia Radlk.
  • Paullinia grandifolia Benth. ex Radlk.
  • Paullinia imberbis Radlk.
  • Paullinia latifolia Benth. ex Radlk.
  • Paullinia micropterygia Miq.
  • Paullinia neuroptera Radlk.
  • Paullinia rugosa Benth. ex Radlk.
  • Paullinia subnuda Radlk.
  • Paullinia venosa Radlk.
  • Pentascyphus thyrsiflorus Radlk.
  • Serjania grandifolia Sagot ex Radlk.
  • Serjania oblongifolia Radlk.
  • Serjania pedicellaris Radlk.
  • Toulicia crassifolia Radlk.


  • Cupania macrostylis (Radlk.) Acev.-Rodr., comb. nov.
  • Matayba peruviana Radlk. subsp. oligandra (Sandwith) T.D. Penn. ex Acev.-Rodr., comb & stat. nov.
  • Paullinia rubiginosa Cambess. subsp. setosa (Radlk.) Acev.-Rodr., stat. nov.

Taxonomic changes

(bold indicate accepted taxa)


  • Paullinia xestophylla Radlk.


This publication was made possible through the collaboration of numerous colleagues and by the financial support of the Smithsonian Institution. At the Smithsonian, Mark T. Strong coordinated numerous tasks such as requesting loans and keeping track of them, proofreading various drafts of the manuscript, and for converting several slide pictures of type specimens into electronic format; Katherine Rankin helped to expedite the mounting of hundreds of new collections and therefore making them available for this study; Sara Alexander and Marilyn Hansel inventoried all collections studied; Christian Feuillet for translating various French text into English, and for his help with various French Guiana localities. Curators of the following herbaria made loans or allowed access to their rich holdings of Sapindaceae from the Guianas: B, BBS, BM, CAY, K, L, MO, NY, P, L, WIS. Thanks to the CAY personnel who answered numerous questions regarding French Guiana localities and for their hospitality during various visits to this French territory. Particularly to Marie Francoise Prévost (who in addition sent numerous field images of Sapindaceae), Jean-Jacques de Granville, Francoise Crozier, Sophie Gonzalez, and Veronique Guerin. During my visit to Kew Botanical Gardens, Nicky Briggs helped locate some of their collections of Sapindaceae, and on various occasions provided me with images of their type collections. Bobbi Angell from the New York Botanical Garden, made numerous precise and beautiful illustrations for this volume, or made available images done for previous projects. Scott A. Mori from the New York Botanical Garden for sending numerous pictures of Sapindaceae and for allowing the use line drawings prepared for his Flora of Central French Guiana publication. I also benefited from discussions with Genise V. Somner regarding the delimitation of various species of Paullinia and Serjania.
The following funds within the Smithsonian institution funded part of this project. These include: the Walcott Fund at the Department of Botany for funding several botanical illustrations. The Neotropical Lowland Fund and the Small Grant Programs for funding a visit to French Guiana; and finally, the Biological Diversity of the Guianas Program for supporting some of the fieldwork and collection related logistics.