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The family consists of one genus only, Symplocos, which occurred already in the Eocene over the entire northern hemisphere in the mixed mesophytic forest and in all probability also in the Indo-Australian tropics.

As proved by abundant fossil endocarps, the Eocene species had already a fruit structure very similar to that of now living species and the genus existed at that early time obviously already in optima forma, a reason to assume that it must be of high antiquity. This is also corroborated by the fact that the tropical subgenus Symplocos has a very disjunct trans-Pacific range; explanation by chance transoceanic long-distance dispersal must be refuted because it is in contradiction with all presently known facts.

Although Symplocos has shown a fairly abundant speciation, considering its present size and 25 fossil species described, it has surprisingly not led to other generic development and remained in splendid isolation.

Its systematic affinities induced mostly to classify it with Ebenales. In my monograph of the Old World species (1975) I have brought all evidence together and have concluded that this position is unlikely: pollen structure differs from that in other families of Ebenales, so do the stomata, the placentation and the structure of the ovules. This leads to the view that Symplocos is more allied to Cornaceae and Theaceae, sharing also with both families a primitive wood anatomy. Still the affinity is not that close, as for example Theaceae have a truly axile placentation. The chromosome number fits better with Cornaceae sensu lat.