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  • Cabombaceae Rich. ex A.Rich.

This family is accepted.


Cabombaceae, B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

Aquatic herbs with perennial sympodial rhizomes; stems long and slender, coated with mucilage
Leaves alternate, the floating ones peltate, the submerged ones finely divided or absent
Flowers rather small, hermaphrodite, axillary, solitary and regular
Sepals 3, petaloid
Petals 3, hypogynous
Stamens 3–18, with extrorse anthers dehiscing longitudinally
Carpels 2–18, completely free, with a simple narrow stigma but very reduced style; ovules 1–3, parietal, pendulous, anatropous
Fruiting carpels indehiscent, 1–3-seeded
Seeds with fleshy endosperm and perisperm but no aril


Cabombaceae, H. Wild. Flora Zambesiaca 1:1. 1960

Aquatic herbs with perennial rhizomes; stems coated with mucilage
Leaves alternate, floating leaves peltate, sometimes with finely dissected submerged leaves in addition
Flowers axillary, solitary, actinomorphic
Sepals 3
Petals 3, hypogynous
Stamens 3–18; anthers extrorse, opening lengthwise
Carpels 2–18, free; style very short or absent but with an attenuated, entire stigma; ovules 1–3, pendulous, parietal
Fruiting carpels indehiscent
Seeds 1–3 with a fleshy endosperm


Aona, L.Y.S. (2009). Neotropical Cabombaceae.


Perennial aquatic glabrous plants, rarely annual ; rhizome elongated, fixed to the substrate, stems elongated and submersed to distally floating. Leaves simple , petiolate , heterophyllous, floating, peltate , narrowly elliptic to broadly ovate , the submerse ones (only in Cabomba Aubl.) dissected , palmate ; stipules absent. Flowers on long pedicels, opening above the water, solitary, hermaphrodite , symmetry radial, hypogynous, tepals 6, white, pink, purple or yellow, the inner tepals (petals) with nectariferous auricles near the base; stamens 3-36, free , filaments flattened, anthers oblong , basifixed, with two thecae, extrorse with longitudinal dehiscence, carpels (1- )2-4(-18), free , ovules (1-)2-5, placentation laminar. Fruit achene -like, coriaceous , indehiscent ; seeds 1-5 per fruit , embryo small, endosperm reduced, perisperm abundant.

Distribution in the Neotropics

Two genera:

  • Cabomba (c. 5 species, widely distributed from the USA to Argentina), leaves heterophyllous, inner tepals bearing nectaries.
  • Brasenia schreberi J.F.Gmel., a wind pollinated species with reduced flowers, distributed worldwide and cultivated for its edible shoots.
Other important characters
  • Petals (inner tepals) with auricular nectaries.
  • Placentation laminar.
Distinguishing characters (always present)
  • Cabombaceae are rather small-flowered 'waterlilies', with few ovules or seeds in each carpel; they have floating stems and all their flower parts are free (Stevens 2008).
Key differences from similar families

Cabombaceae is closely related to the true 'waterlilies', Nymphaeaceae, sharing with it several characters e.g:

  • Stem rhizomatous.
  • Leaves involute.
  • Leaves peltate.
  • Secondary veinspalmate, actinodromous, festoon brochidodromous.
  • Actinodromous.
  • Festoon brochidodromous.
  • Margin toothed or entire.
  • Flowers are single along the stem.

However, in Cabombaceae the flowers are trimerous, with 6 tepals (vs. sepals 4-6(-12) and petals 6-70 in Nympheaceae), and leaves may be heterophyllous.

Useful tips for generic identification
  • Brasenia Schreb. is wind pollinated.
  • Cabomba has paired nectaries on its inner tepals and is pollinated by insects (Stevens 2008).
Notable genera and distinguishing features

See above

General Description
Number of genera

See above.

Notes on delimitation
  • Cabombaceae is in the order Nympheales together with Nymphaeaceae and Hydatellaceae.
  • Saarela et al. (2007) suggest a few additional possible synapomorphies for Nymphaeales, such as hydrolysable tannins which in this group (e.g. in Nuphar Sm.) are different from those found elsewhere (Gottlieb et al. 1993; Ishimatsu et al. 1989) - although of course Hydatellaceae are a poorly known group.
  • Both genera are widely distributed and native. Species of the genus Cabomba are often used as aquarium plants.
Important literature

FERES, F. & AMARAL, M.C.E. 2003. Cabombaceae. In Wanderley, M. G. L., Shepherd, G. J. & Giulietti, A. M. (Eds.). Flora Fanerogâmica do Estado de São Paulo. Vol. 3. São Carlos, Editora RiMA. pp: 09-11.

GOTTLIEB, O., R., Kaplan, M. A. C., & Kubitzki, K. 1993. A suggested role of galloyl esters in the evolution of dicotyledons. Taxon 42: 539-552.

ISHIMATSU, M., Tanaka, T., Nonaka, G., Nishioka, I., Nishizawa, M., & Yamagishi, T. 1989. Tannins and related compounds. LXXIX. Isolation and characterisation of novel dimeric and trimeric hydrolyzable tannins, nuphrins C, D, E and F, from Nuphar japonicum DC. Chem. Pharmac. Bull. 37: 1735-1743.

ORGAARD, M. 1991. The genus Cabomba (Cabombaceae) - a taxonomic study. Nordic J. Bot. 11(2): 179-203.

SAARELA, J. M., Rai, H. S., Doyle, J. A., Endress, P. K., Mathews, S., Marchant, A. D., Briggs, B., & Graham, S. W. 2007. Hydatellaceae identified as a new branch near the base of the angiosperm phylogenetic tree. Nature 446: 312-315.

STEVENS, P. F. 2008. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 9, June 2008 [and more or less continuously updated since].

Cabombaceae Rich. ex A.Rich. appears in other Kew resources:

First published in Dict. Class. Hist. Nat. [Bory] 2: 608. 1822 [31 Dec 1822] (1822)

Accepted by

  • APG IV (2016)

Flora Zambesiaca
Flora Zambesiaca

Flora of Tropical East Africa
Flora of Tropical East Africa

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at and
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

Milliken, W., Klitgard, B. and Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.