Trees and shrubs, generally glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple, exstipulate. Inflorescence terminal or axillary spikes or racemes or panicles, rarely flowers solitary axillary. Flowers mostly bisexual, pedicellate, actinomorphic, pentamerous, epi- or peri-gynous, bracteate. Calyx 5-lobed, campanulate, tube adnate to the ovary, lobes imbricate. Petals (3-) 5 or 10(-11), united at the base, in 1 or 2 whorls, imbricate. Stamens 4-many, in 1-4 series, rarely in bundles, free or basally subconnate, exserted, anthers ovoid-subglobose, longitudinally dehiscent. Carpels 2-5, syncarpous; ovary inferior or semi-inferior, 2-5 locular, ovules anatropous, pendulous, 2-4 in each locule on axile placenta; style simple, stigma 2-5-lobed or subcapitate. Fruit an ellipsoid or subglobose drupe crowned by persistent calyx lobes; endocarp hard, usually ribbed, 1-5-seeded. Seed straight or rarely curved, embryo surrounded by angular or star-shaped fleshy endosperm.
A unigeneric family of about 350 species; distributed in tropical and sub-tropical Asia, Australia; represented in Pakistan by only one species.
The family was first recognised by D.Don (Symplocineae, Prodr.Fl.Nepal. 144.1825, excluding Schopfia) but most authors including De Candolle (Prodr.8: 244.1844), Bentham & Hooker (Gen.Pl.2:668.1876), Stewart & Brandis (For. F1.299.1874) and C.B.Clarke in Hook.f.(F1.Brit.Ind.3:572.1882) included it in Styracaceae. However, Miquel in Martius (FI.Brass.7:22.1842), Engler & Prantl (Pflanzenfam 4(1):168.1890) following D.Don treated it as a separate family. Lawrence (Taxon.Vasc..P1.665.1951) and C.G.G. van Steenis (Fl.Males.4:49. 1954) advocate its separate identity from Styracaceae on the basis of its inferior or semi-inferior, completely 2-5- loculed ovary, drupe crowned by persistent calyx lobes, 1-4 seriate or fasciculate (adelphous) stamens with ovoid-subglobose anthers and the absence of stellate hairs or scales. Hutchison (Gen. Fl.Pl 2:39.1968; Fam.F1.Pl.1:171.1960) also treats it as separate unigeneric family. The remarks of Shaw (in Willis Dict.Fl.PI.& Ferns ed.8.1093.1972) that Symplocaceae has not much in common with Styracaceae but is closely related to Theaceae are justified since it differs from Theaceae only in racemose inflorescence and inferior ovary, the characters found in some Theaceous genera (e.g., Anneslea, Symplocarpon).
Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the United States Department of Agriculture for financing this research under P.L.480. Thanks are also due to Mr. B.L.Burtt, Mr.Ian Hedge and Miss Jennifer Lamond of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh for their helpful suggestions.