Scrophulariaceae Family Description Essay

The Scrophulariaceae is a family of flowering plants, commonly known as the figwort family. The plants are annual and perennial herbs, as well as one genus of shrubs. Flowers have bilateral (zygomorphic) or rarely radial (actinomorphic) symmetry. Members of the Scrophulariaceae have a cosmopolitan distribution, with the majority found in temperate areas, including tropical mountains. The family name is based on the name of the included genus ScrophulariaL..


This article needs attention from an expert in Taxonomy or Botany. The specific problem is: This article needs a comparison between the current and obsolete circumscriptions of the group, its current composition, and the present location of excluded taxa. None of these issues is adequately dealt with here.WikiProject Taxonomy or WikiProject Botany may be able to help recruit an expert.(August 2015)

In the past, it was treated as including about 275 genera and over 5,000 species, but its circumscription has been radically altered since numerous molecular phylogenies have shown the traditional broad circumscription to be grossly polyphyletic.[2] Many genera have recently been transferred to other families within the Lamiales, notably Plantaginaceae and Orobanchaceae, but also several new families.[3][4] Several families of the Lamiales have had their circumscriptions enlarged to accommodate genera transferred from the Scrophulariacae sensu lato.

Fischer (2004) considered the family to consist of three subfamilies - Antirrhinoideae, Gratioloideae, and Digitalidoideae. He further divided the Gratioloideae into five tribes - Gratioleae, Angeloniaeae, Stemodieae, Limoselleae, and Lindernieae. He then divided the Gratioleae, with its 16 genera (and about 182 species) into three subtribes - Caprarinae, Dopatrinae, and Gratiolinae. The Gratiolinae had 10 genera (about 121 species) distributed through temperate and tropical America - Bacopa and Mecardonia (formerly Herpestis), Amphianthus, Gratiola, Sophronanthe, Benjaminia, Scoparia, Boelkea, Maeviella, and Braunblequetia. Many of these were transferred to the family Plantaginaceae, in the tribe Gratioleae.


The family includes some medicinal plants, among them:


The Scrophulariaceae family in its APG IV (2016)[5] circumscription includes 62 genera and about 1830 known species.[6]

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

Excluded genera[edit]

The following genera, traditionally included in the Scrophulariaceae, have been transferred to other families as indicated:


  1. ^"Family: Scrophulariaceae Juss., nom. cons". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2003-01-17. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  2. ^Fischer says that, if we consider morphology, it has been obvious for the last decades that the Scrophulariaceae do not represent a monophyletic group. See FISCHER (2004), p. 346.
  3. ^ abOlmstead, R. G., dePamphilis, C. W., Wolfe, A. D., Young, N. D., Elisons, W. J. & Reeves P. A. (2001). "Disintegration of the Scrophulariaceae". American Journal of Botany. 88 (2): 348–361. doi:10.2307/2657024. JSTOR 2657024. PMID 11222255. 
  4. ^Olmstead, R. G. (2003). "Whatever happened to the Scrophulariaceae?". Fremontia. 30: 13–22.  - on line here
  5. ^Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2016), "An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG IV", Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161 (2): 105–20, doi:10.1111/boj.12385, retrieved 2016-05-20 
  6. ^Christenhusz, M. J. M., and Byng, J. W. (2016). "The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase". Phytotaxa. Magnolia Press. 261 (3): 201–217. doi:10.11646/phytotaxa.261.3.1. 
  7. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Aptosimeae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  8. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Buddlejeae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  9. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Hemimerideae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  10. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Leucophylleae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  11. ^Gándara, Etelvina; Victoria Sosa (March 2013). "Testing the monophyly and position of the North American shrubby desert genus Leucophyllum (Scrophulariaceae: Leucophylleae)". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 171 (3): 508–518. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2012.01327.x. 
  12. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Limoselleae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  13. ^ abKornhall, Per & Bremer, Birgitta (2004). "New circumscription of the tribe Limoselleae (Scrophulariaceae) that includes the taxa of the tribe Manuleeae". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 146 (4): 453–467. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2004.00341.x. 
  14. ^Oxelman, B.; Kornhall, P.; Olmstead, R.G.; Bremer, B. (2005). "Further disintegration of the Scrophulariaceae". Taxon. 54 (2): 411–425. doi:10.2307/25065369. JSTOR 25065369. 
  15. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Myoporeae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  16. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Scrophularieae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  17. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae tribe Scrophularieae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  18. ^"Genera of Scrophulariaceae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  19. ^Albach, D. C.; Meudt, H. M.; Oxelman, B. (2005). "Piecing together the "new" Plantaginaceae". American Journal of Botany. 92 (2): 297–315. doi:10.3732/ajb.92.2.297. PMID 21652407. 
  20. ^"Lindernia All". A Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Madagascar. Missouri Botanical Garden and Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. 
  21. ^Haston, E., Richardson, J. E., Stevens, P. F., Chase, M. W., Harris, D. J. (2007). "A linear sequence of Angiosperm Phylogeny Group II families". Taxon. 56 (1): 7–12. doi:10.2307/25065731. 
  22. ^Nelson D. Young; Kim E. Steiner; Claude W. dePamphilis (Autumn 1999). "The Evolution of Parasitism in Scrophulariaceae/Orobanchaceae: Plastid Gene Sequences Refute an Evolutionary Transition Series". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 86 (4): 876–893. doi:10.2307/2666173. JSTOR 2666173. 
  23. ^"GRIN genera sometimes placed in Scrophulariaceae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 


  • Fischer, E. (2004). "Scrophulariaceae". In Kubitzki, K.; Kadereit, J.W. Flowering Plants — Dicotyledons: Lamiales. The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants. VII. Springer. pp. 333−432. ISBN 3-540-40593-3. 

External links[edit]

Whatever Became of the Snapdragon Family?

For centuries, botanists have grouped similar plants into the taxonomic category of family.  Plant families are a very important way of recognizing relationship and predicting useful characteristics.  For example, if we find a valuable medicinal property in one member of a family, we are more likely to find similar properties in other members of the same family than in species outside the family.   Recently, I wrote about the important Grass Family, and the similar edible properties of many grain species in the family.  Other familiar families include the Rose (Rosaceae), Tomato (Solanaceae), Legume (Fabaceae), and Sunflower (Asteraceae) Families.

Butter-and-eggs, or Linaria vulgaris, is a
close relative of the snapdragon, and
no longer in the Scrophulariaceae.
The Snapdragon Family (Scrophularaceae, also known as the Figwort Family) used to be a happy but rather large family that included snapdragons, mullein, monkeyflowers, foxglove, veronica, torenia, Indian paintbrush, calceolaria and many other attractive garden and wild flowers.  It is not a major family for medicinal plants, but the foxglove is the source of the important heart stimulant, digitalis. Many other members of the family (e.g. snapdragons themselves) provide ornamental bedding plants worth millions worldwide.

Sadly the snapdragon family has suffered a nasty divorce, and what we now call the Scrophulariaceae no longer contains the snapdragons.  The old Scrophulariaceae has in fact been split into at least six smaller families (Olmstead, et. al 2001). The pieces, it was found, were not closely related to each other, some pieces were actually closer to other families, including the mint, gloxinia, and verbena families.

The family is a victim of the more precise analytic tools of the late 20th century and the new phylogenetic taxonomy. The similarities among the members of the old Scrophulariaceae were superficial, it turns out. The general flower shape and form of the seed capsule evolved many times from different ancestors (convergent evolution) because they were adapting to similar pollinators and seed dispersal strategies. In sum, the old family was polyphyletic

The story involves all the drama and complications of modern plant taxonomy.  For two centuries, botanists have worked to define more "natural" families.  Natural families contain genera that share fundamental characteristics, including similar structural features of flowers and fruits.  In the late 19th century the word natural took on the new meaning of evolutionary relationship.  Following Darwin's lead, biologists interpreted fundamental similarities within families, genera, and other categories as due to common ancestry.  For the next century or so interpretations of natural similarity and evolutionary history went hand in hand.  More and more information from anatomy, chemistry and genetics became available, often confirming, but sometimes toppling earlier assumptions about relationship.  The information available became so huge that putting it altogether into a master classification of plants relied on the experience and gut feelings of a handful of the leading taxonomists.  But the classifications of these wise old men often differed markedly, as much of the information could be interpreted in different ways.

In the middle of the twentieth century, there were many attempts to decipher evolutionary history (or phylogeny) with rigorous and objective statistical tools.  The most successful of these was cladistic analysis, a process in which similarity among a group of organisms was distilled into distinct and narrowly defined characters, and the organisms sorted out based on the number of shared characters.  Organisms with the most shared characters came out close together on a tree-like cladogram.  The branches of the cladogram were then grouped into taxonomic categories, and the cladogram was also interpreted as representing the evolutionary history of the group (i.e. as a phylogenetic tree).  Cladistic analysis,now routinely applied to structural, chemical, and genetic data, remains the core of systematic biology.

This lousewort, Pedicularis bracteosa,
 is now in the Orobanchaceae.
So then, where did the snapdragons end up?  The snapdragon genus (Antirrhinum), along with foxglove (Digitalis), Penstemon, Veronica, and butter-and-eggs (Linaria) ended up fortunately together, in what might now be called the new Snapdragon Family, or technically the Plantaginaceae.  The very similar-looking monkeyflowers (Mimulus) are only distantly related and have been moved to the family Phrymaceae.  Indian paintbrush (Castilleja) and Pedicularis now belong to the Orobanchaceae, which contains mostly parasitic species. Torenia is in the Linderniaceae, and Calceolaria is in the Calceolariaceae.  What remains in the Scrophulariaceae are the figworts (Scrophularia), Mullein (Verbascum) and some other original members, with the addition of  some genera that used to be in other families, including Myoporum and Buddleja

Nothing is more snapdragonish than a
monkeyflower, but this common western
American genus is now in a family
no one has heard of - the Phrymaceae.
Confused?  Don't worry, most professional botanists and horticulturists are as well.  Many websites are still using the name Scrophulariaceae in its original broad sense.  It's a trainwreck out there.

Plantago is a genus of weedy,
wind-pollinated herbs, that is
unfortunately atypical of the
new Snapdragon Family. Photo by Bernd Haynold
The name of the new Snapdragon Family, Plantaginaceae, is a real irritant to many of us old-timers.  It is based on the genus Plantago, a genus of small, inconspicuous, wind-pollinated herbs known as plantains (not the big cooking bananas!).   Because of its highly reduced flowers, its relationship to snapdragons, etc., was not recognized, and it had been in its own family, Plantaginaceae, for centuries. 

Veronica was the basis for the proposed
family name Veronicaceae.  This name was
preferred by many, because at least it was
more symbolic of the types of flowers found
in most members the family. Plantaganiceae,
however had priority.
The name Veronicaceae was originally suggested for the new family (Olmstead et al. 2001), but according to the rules of taxonomy, an existing family names take precedence over a new family names, and since Plantaginaceae has been recognized as a family much longer than the Veronicaceae, the older name must prevail, and so the Snapdragon Family is now officially the Plantaginaceae.  Plantago represents a tiny specialized twig of the snapdragon family tree, and it is too bad to name this family of colorful, distinctively shaped flowers for such an atypical member. This tail-wagging-the-dog result seems counterintuitive and hard to accept, but for now that's the way it is.

The old Scrophulariaceae was polypheletic, and in order to create families that represented genuine evolutionary relationship, it had to be broken up.  Other traditional families have suffered a similar fate, including the Lily Family, Liliaceae.  Daylilies, for example, are no longer in the Lily Family - but that's another story.

Reference: Olmstead, et. al. 2001.  The Disintegration of the Scrophulariaceae.  American Journal of Botany 88:348-361.


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