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Small to large trees, rarely shrubs. Leaves alternate and distichous or spiral (to rarely opposite and clustered), simple, the margins usually entire, pinnately nerved; Inflorescences terminal, axillary or cauline, simple racemes, panicles with 2-3 orders of racemose or spicate branches or fascicles, or flowers solitary. Flowers actinomorphic or zygomorphic, hermaphrodite; Fruits indehiscent, then dry, fleshy or woody, or dehiscent by a circumscissle operculum (Neotropics), then woody;


Asia-Tropical, Neotropical present
Twenty four genera in three subfamilies with about 285 species. Only members of the subfamily Barringtonioideae in five genera with 71 species occur in Malesia. The Neotropical species Bertholletia excelsa, Couroupita guianensis, and a few species of Gustavia L. are sometimes cultivated in the region.


Traditionally placed in the Myrtales. Thorne (1968) suggested a Thealean relationship and Cronquist (1981) and Takhtajan (1997) both established the order Lecythidales somewhere between the Theales and Malvales. Tsou (1994) was the first to suggest a relationship with the small African family Scytopetalaceae. The Lecythidaceae, Scytopetalaceae and Napoleonaceae are all closely related and are considered as one family by some authors and separate but closely related families by others. Molecular studies (Anderberg et al. 2002, Schönenberger et al. 2005) have shown the three subfamilies Lecythidoideae, Planchonioideae and Foetidoideae to be a monophyletic group and sister to the Sapotaceae within the broadly defined Ericales sensu APG (1998, 2009). The most recent molecular study of Lecythidaceae is Mori et al. (2007) and it shows the Napoleonaeaceae, Scytopetalaceae and Lecythidaceae conform to highly supported clades.

The Malesian species have generally been referred to the subfamily Planchonioideae of Lecythidaceae, but Reveal (1996) showed that there was an older subfamily name Barringtonioideae, which must now be used and is applied here.

The Barringtonioideae has syntricolpate pollen, the cortical bundles have a reversed orientation (with the xylem outside the phloem), the secondary xylem lacks chambered crystals. The Lecythidoideae of the New World has tricolpate pollen, the cortical bundles are of normal orientation and the xylem usually has crystal chains of two types. Most of the neotropical genera, including Couroupita and Bertholletia, differ from the Barringtonioideae in the highly zygomorphic flowers with the androecium consisting of a basal ring of stamens and a hood with either more stamens or nectariferous staminodes. Gustavia has 6-12 petals whereas the Barringtonioideae has 3-4.

The genus Barringtonia was revised by Payens (1967) and recently by Prance (2013) and Planchonia by Kuswata (1965). The Malaysian genus Abdulmajidia was transferred to Barringtonia by Prance (2010), because the only difference establishing the genus was that the fruits had more than one seed. However, some species in Barringtonia have also been found with two or more seeds.


The basic chromosome number of the Barringtonioideae is n = 13 whereas in the Neotropical Lecythidoideae n = 17 (Prance & Mori 1979). The following chromosome numbers for Malesian species have been reported and were summarized in Kowal (1989):
  • Barringtonia asiatica n = 13 (Morawetz 1986).
  • Barringtonia racemosa n = 26 (Morawetz 1986).
  • Careya arborea Roxb. n =13 (Mehra 1972).
  • Petersianthus macrocarpus (P.Beauv.) Liben (from Africa) n = 13 (Mangenot & Man- genot 1962).
  • Planchonia valida Blume n = 13 (Sarkar et al. 1976).


Many species of Barringtonia and Planchonia are used as fish poisons throughout the region. Both fruit and bark are used to stun fish. The young leaves of some species of Barringtonia and Planchonia are used in salads and chutnies. The seeds of B. edulis, B. novae-hiberniae and B. procera are wide­ly eaten in the Pacific region and in New Guinea and all three species are cultivated for this purpose (Jebb & Wise 1992). The wood of a few species has limited uses in furniture, house building and other local uses. The straight trunks of some monopodial species from New Guinea are popular for poles. Many local medicinal uses are recorded for several species.


There are numerous reports of the presence of saponins in Barringtonia and Planchonia, which accounts for their extensive use as fish poisons. Hegnauer (1966) reported the presence of saponins in fruit, seeds and bark of Barringtonia acutangula, B. asiatica, B. racemosa and in the bark of Careya arborea. Darnley Gibbs (1974) records the saponins Barringenol-R and Barringtogenic acid both derivatives of ß-amyrin in Barringtonia racemosa and barringtogenols B-D in B. acutangula. Rumampuk et al. (2003) isolated a triterpene ester saponin from the seed of B. asiatica. Ragasa et al. (2011) reported two new triterpenes from B. asiatica germanicol caffeoyl ester and camelliagenone. They also found many other compounds, germanicol trans-coumaroyl ester, spinasterol and trinolein from the fruits and spinasterol, squalene, linolei acid and trino­lein from the seeds. Some of these compounds exhibited antifungal activity against Candida albicans and caffeoyl ester, camelliagenone and germanicol show antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus. Rijai et al. (2004) reported a new triterpenoid saponin from the seeds of Chydenanthus excelsus Miers. The seeds of both B. asiatica and C. excelsus are used in Indonesia to poison fish. Phytochemical isolation of the bark of Planchonia careya (F.Muell.) R.Knuth produced 16-deoxybarring-togenol C, barringtogenol C and the previously unreported 16α,21β,22α,28-tetrahydroxyolean-12-en-3-one (Khong & Lewis 1977). Crublet et al. (2003) reported that the leaves of Planchonia grandis Ridl. contain three acylated flavonol glycosides. The bark of Planchonia careya is saponaceous and infusions show the characteristic frothing at great dilution, 1: 1000 (Webb 1949). A separated sapotoxin fraction gave a characteristic cherry red colour with concentrated sulphuric acid, but was devoid of haemolytic power (Hamlyn-Harris and Smith 1916, cited by Webb 1949). Webb (1949) reported (under Careya australis (Benth.) F.Muell.) that the leaves of this species do not contain any alkaloid. The bark and leaves of Careya australis? contain triterpenes and free triterpenes, respectively (Simes et al. 1959).

Sun et al. (2006) isolated and identified five compounds from Barringtonia racemosa: 3,3’-dimethoxy ellagic acid, dihydromycetin, gallic acid, bartogenic acid, and stigmasterol.

Cyanogensis is recorded in Barringtonia racemosa and Planchonia spectabilis Merr. (Darnley Gibbs 1974).

Tannins are present in many species and Hegnauer (1966) mentions tannic acid in the seeds of Barringtonia asiatica and in the bark of B. acutangula. In Madagascan material of B. racemosa the tannin content of the fruit was 13.4 % and the bark 4.4 % and in bark of Indian material 18 %. The tannin content of the leaves of Careya arborea is 19 %.


Chantar. 1995 – In: Kew Bull. p 677
Poit. 1835 – In: Mém. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris. p 141
Corner 1988 – In: Wayside Trees Malaya, ed. 3. p 349
Whitmore 1973 – In: Tree Fl. Malaya. p 257
R.Knuth 1939 – In: Engl., Pflanzenr. 219. p 26
R.J.F.Hend. 1982 – In: Fl. Australia. p 1
H.N.Qin & Prance 2007 – In: Fl. China. p 293
Miers 1874 – In: Trans. Linn. Soc. London, Bot. p 157
Nied. 1892 – In: Engl. & Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. 3. p 30
Pinard 2002 – In: Tree Fl. Sabah & Sarawak. p 101
Prance 2012 – In: Kiew et al., Fl. Penins. Malaysia 3. p 175
S.A.Mori & Prance 1990 – In: Fl. Neotrop. Monogr. p 1