The Caryophyllaceae, commonly called the pink family or carnation family, is a family of flowering plants. The species are dicotyledons included in the order Caryophyllales. It is a large family, with 88 genera and some 2,000 species.

This cosmopolitan family of herbaceous plants is best represented in temperate climates, with a few species growing on tropical mountains. Some of the more commonly known members include pinks and carnations (Dianthus), and Firepink and campions (Lychnis and Silene). Many species are grown as ornamental plants, and some species are widespread weeds. Most species grow in the Mediterranean and bordering regions of Europe and Asia. The number of genera and species in the southern hemisphere is rather small, although the family does contain Antarctic Pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis), the world's southernmost dicot, which is one of only two flowering plants found in Antarctica.


Despite its size and the somewhat doubtful mutual relationships, this family is rather uniform and easily recognizable. Most are herbacaceous annuals or perennials, dying off above ground each year. A few species are bushy with a woody rhizome, or even small trees. Most plants are non-succulent, i.e. having no fleshy stems or leaves. The nodes on the stem are swollen.

The leaves are almost always opposite, rarely whorled. The blades are entire, petiolate and often stipulate. These stipules are not sheathforming.

The hermaphroditic flowers are terminal, blooming singly or in branched or forked in cymes. The inflorescence can be dichasial. This means that in the axil of each peduncle (= primary flower stalk) of the terminal flower in the cyme, two new single-flower branches sprout up on each side of and below the first flower. If the terminal flowers are absent, then this can lead to monochasia, i.e. a monoparous cyme with a single flower on each axis of the inflorescence. In the extreme, this leads to a single flower, such as in Dianthus.

The flowers are regular and mostly 5-merous, i.e. with 5 petals and 5 sepals, but sometimes with 4 petals. The sepals are free from one another or united. The petals are fringed or deeply cleft at the end. The calyx may be cylindrically inflated, as in Silene. The stamens number 5, 8 or 10. They are mostly isomerous with the perianth. The superior gynoecium has 2 to 5 carpels (members of a compound pistil) and is syncarpous, i.e. with these carpels united in a compound ovary. This ovary is 1-locular, i.e. having one chamber inside the ovary.

The fruit is non-fleshy. It is usually a capsule, less frequently a small nut.


Currently, Amaranthaceae and Caryophyllaceae are sister groups and considered closely related. Formerly, Caryophyllaceae was considered the sister family to all of the remaining members of the suborder Caryophyllineae because they have anthocyanins, and not betalain pigments. However, cladistic analyses indicate that Caryophyllaceae evolved from ancestors that contained betalain, reinforcing betalain as an accurate synapomorphy of the suborder.

This family is traditionally divided in three subfamilies :

The last, however, are a basal grade of rather primitive members of this family, not closely related but simply retaining many plesiomorphic traits. Instead of a subfamily, most ought to be treated as genera incertae sedis, but Corrigola and Telephium might warrant recognition as Corrigioleae. The Alsinoideae on the other hand seem to form 2 distinct clades, perhaps less some misplaced genera. Finally, the Silenoideae appear monophyletic at least for the most part, if some of the taxa misplaced in Alsinoideae are moved there; it may be that the name Caryophylloideae would apply for the revised delimitation.

However, there is rampant hybridization between many members of this family – particularly in the Silenoideae/Caryophylloideae –, and it has been found that in some the lineages of descent are highly complicated and do not readily yield to cladistic analysis.




  • (2008): Reticulate or tree-like chloroplast DNA evolution in Sileneae (Caryophyllaceae)? Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 48(1): 313-325. (HTML abstract, appendix avaiable to suscribers)
  • (2008): Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach (3rd ed.). Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, MA.
  • (2001-): Angiosperm Phylogeny Website - Caryophyllaceae Version 9, June 2008. Retrieved 2008-AUG-06.

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