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This pantropical family is most diverse in the rainforests and monsoon forests of south-east Asia and north-eastern Australia. Some species may be found almost anywhere in Australia, though with only a few genera (e.g. Dodonaea, Atalaya) in desert regions and only Dodonaea extending into the temperate south.

Characteristic features of the family Sapindaceae in Australia include:

  • trees or shrubs (rarely climbers), with usually alternate, compound (sometimes simple) leaves often with an even number of leaflets (i.e. without a terminal leaflet, but with the leaf terminating in a short process or "pin"), the leaflets usually alternating with each other on the rhachis
  • flowers small, greenish, cream or yellow, with 5 sepals, 5 free petals and a prominent nectary-disc
  • stamens usually 10 (sometimes fewer), often rather irregularly arranged, often with hairy filaments
  • ovary superior, often distinctly lobed or with bulges marking the carpels
  • fruits usually dehiscent into 3 or 4 valves, often yellowish or red and, when split, gaping to reveal the few large, often sticky seeds that may have brightly coloured, fleshy arils and contrastingly-coloured seed bodies; some genera with winged, dry fruits or indehiscent drupes


Evergreen trees or shrubs, or rarely woody or perennial herbaceous vines climbing by tendrils. Tendrils (if present) axillary, comprising modified inflorescences. Perennating by taproots or crowns. Internal secretions not obvious. Plants glabrous, or with simple or stellate, glandular or non-glandular, unicellular hairs. Leaves alternate and spiral, or rarely in whorls or pseudo-whorls, cauline if herbs, petiolate, subsessile or sessile; pulvinae present or absent. Stipules absent, or present and distinct and free from the petiole, scale-like, membranous, or green and leafy, persistent; stipellae absent. Lamina simple, once compound or bicompound, bifoliolate, ternate, palmate, paripinnate or imparipinnate, symmetric or conspicuously asymmetric, pinnatifid or pinnatisect; lamina/leaflets filiform, acicular, subulate, linear, lanceolate, ovate, elliptic, oblanceolate, oblong or flabellate; base cuneate, attenuate, oblique or rarely cordate; margins entire, crenate, dentate or serrate, ±flat, revolute or recurved; venation pinnate, with the midrib conspicuous, and the tertiary venation reticulate or obscure; surfaces punctate or not punctate; leathery or rarely herbaceous. Domatia absent, or consisting of pits, pockets or hair tufts in the vein angles. All the flowers bisexual, or bisexual flowers occurring together with male flowers on the same plant, or male and female flowers occurring on the same plant, or bisexual flowers occurring together with male flowers on some plants and with female flowers on others. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, consisting of racemes, panicles, cymes, corymbs, thyrses or solitary flowers. Bracts and bracteoles present or apparently absent. Pollination by insects or wind. Flowers odourless or fragrant, stalked. Floral disc present (sometimes obscure). Perianth regular (rarely zygomorphic), of 2 dissimilar whorls or of 1 whorl only. Calyx segments free or fused, with 410 sepals or lobes, imbricate, rarely valvate or open in bud; calyx cup-shaped, herbaceous or rarely petal-like. Corolla segments free or fused, with (0) 46 petals or lobes, alternating with the sepals or lobes, imbricate in bud; corolla 1-lipped, white, cream, pink or green, without contrasting markings, membranous or papery; claws present; lobes ±entire or notched, emarginate, bifid or bilobed. Fertile stamens (5) 810 (16), not clearly correlated with the sepals or calyx lobes, free of (or rarely fused with) the corolla, free of the ovary and style, distinct from each other or rarely fused into a tube, all ±equal. Staminodes present or absent. Anthers basifixed or dorsifixed, versatile or not, opening sideways or inwards by longitudinal slits, 2-celled; appendages apical or absent. Ovary superior and sessile. Carpels 13, fused; ovary with 13 locules. Style terminal, single and unbranched with the stigma linear or lobed. Ovules 12 per locule, stalked; placentation axile. Fruit a dry dehiscent, schizocarpic or indehiscent capsule with irregular, septicidal or loculicidal dehiscence, or a schizocarp forming 1-winged mericarps (samarium), or rarely a fleshy berry; the perianth on the maturing fruit deciduous, or dry and persistent. Disseminule macro-surface featureless, winged or costate; micro-surface ±smooth, brown, glossy or dull. Seeds 16 per fruit. Aril present or absent. Cotyledons 2. Embryo straight or curved.
(Note: this description has been generated from the coded data compiled for the key. Any errors in the key data will be reflected in the descriptions.)

A treatment of the family Sapindaceae has been published in:
Flora of Australia 25: 41-64.

Australian genera of Sapindaceae (as recognised for the Flora of Australia)

* = all species introduced


Alectryon coriaceus (fruits)
Photo: H.Nicholson H. & N. Nicholson 

Arytera lautereriana (fruits)
Photo: G.Leiper G.Leiper 

Arytera microphylla (flowers)
Photo: G.Leiper G.Leiper 

Atalaya multiflora (flowers)
Photo: G.Leiper G.Leiper