Widespread, well represented in the north-temperate zone.
Genera 48, species ca. 1200 (35 genera, 442 species in the flora).
Monophyly of Polygonaceae is well supported by molecular studies (M. W. Chase et al. 1993; P. Cuénoud et al. 2002; A. S. Lamb Frye and K. A. Kron 2003), which place it sister to Plumbaginaceae. Wood anatomy also supports this relationship (S. Carlquist 2003). Polygonaceae has been divided variously into subfamilies (S. A. Graham and C. E. Wood Jr. 1965; K. Haraldson 1978; J. Brandbyge 1993); two often are recognized based on morphological evidence: Eriogonoideae and Polygonoideae. Recent studies using the chloroplast gene rbcL suggest Eriogonoideae are monophyletic and Polygonoideae are paraphyletic (Lamb Frye and Kron). Generic limits have been much debated, particularly the circumscription of Polygonum in the broad sense. Morphological, cytological, palynological, and anatomical data, although useful in resolving some questions about the circumscriptions and relationships of genera, have not provided a consensus regarding relationships within the family. Pollen types (J. W. Nowicke and J. J. Skvarla 1977) and chromosome numbers (Brandbyge) are diverse. Multiple base chromosome numbers have been documented in some genera, and polyploidy is common. The classification used here generally follows J. L. Reveal (1978) for Eriogonoideae and Haraldson for Polygonoideae.
A characteristic feature of the family is the ocrea, a nodal sheath variously interpreted as an outgrowth of the sheathing base of the petiole, as connate stipules, or as an expanded axillary stipule (S. A. Graham and C. E. Wood Jr. 1965). It is absent in subfamily Eriogonoideae except in some perennial, South American members of Chorizanthe, where it is rudimentary (J. L. Reveal 1978).
The flowers of Polygonaceae have been studied extensively. Most researchers concluded that six tepals is the primitive condition in the family (R. A. Laubengayer 1937), but A. S. Lamb Frye and K. A. Kron (2003) concluded that five tepals is the primitive condition, and that taxa with six or four tepals evolved multiple times within the family. The same molecular study also suggested parallel evolution of growth forms and woodiness. Floral nectaries are useful generic characters in the Polygonoideae (L.-P. Ronse Decraene and J. R. Akeroyd 1988) but their utility in floristic treatments is limited because of their small size. In some genera of Polygonaceae, the outer tepals are connate and form a slender, stipelike hypanthium base above the articulation with the true pedicel. In the Polygonoideae treatments, pedicel refers to the true pedicel plus the stipelike hypanthium above the articulation; in Eriogonoideae, stipe refers only to the stipelike hypanthium base, and pedicel is applied only to the true pedicel.
Members of the family are of relatively minor economic importance (A. N. Steward 1930; S. A. Graham and C. E. Wood Jr. 1965). Fagopyrum has been cultivated for millennia, Coccoloba produce edible fruits, and the petioles of Rheum and leaves of some species of Rumex are edible. Many species have been used as food or medicine or for ceremonies by various tribes of Native Americans. Outside the flora area, the family includes some tropical trees harvested for timber (Coccoloba and Triplaris). Some species of Fallopia, Persicaria, Polygonum, and Rumex are cosmopolitan weeds, and Emex is a pernicious weed in parts of the world. Of the 35 genera in the flora, four are entirely non-native: Emex, Fagopyrum, Muehlenbeckia, and Rheum. Antigonon and Coccoloba are popular ornamentals in the southern part of the flora region. Many species of Erigonoum are planted in rock gardens. Persicaria species are important wetland plants because waterfowl consume their fruits.
Mechanisms for achene dispersal vary greatly. Hooked or awned involucres occur in many genera of subfam. Eriogonoideae. The outer tepals of the perianth expand into wings (Fallopia) or spines (Emex), or the achene has wings (Eriogonum alatum, Oxyria, Rheum, and Rumex), which aid in dispersal by wind or water. The achenes are forcibly tossed from the plant in Persicaria virginiana, and persistent, hooked styles aid in their transport by animals. In Coccoloba, the fleshy tube of the tepals aids in dispersal by birds.
|1||Ocreae absent; nodes not swollen; flowers usually enclosed in involucres or subtended byinvolucral bracts, these rarely absent (in Gilmania)||Polygonaceae subfam. Eriogonoideae|
|1||Ocreae present, persistent or deciduous; nodes usually swollen; flowers not enclosed in involucres or associated with involucral bracts||Polygonaceae subfam. Polygonoideae|