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Rubiaceae: Madder Family Plant Identification Characteristics.

Plants of the Madder Family

      If you are a coffee drinker, then the Madder family could be a real eye-opener. Coffee beans (Coffea) contain the purine-type alkaloid caffeine, which prolongs the useful life of many hormones, but especially adrenaline. This gives coffee its stimulant effect. Coffee can be used as a stimulant to counter the effects of depressant alkaloids and as an anti-emetic to keep you from vomiting (Kadans), which is ironic given that ipecac (Cephaelis) is in the same family. Other well-known members of the Madder family include the anti-malarial alkaloid quinine (Cinchona), and the ornamental Gardenia. Most plants of this family grow in the tropics, many of them as shrubs or trees. Native North American species are mostly herbs and in the northern states you will probably only find bedstraw (Galium).

      North American members of this family are herbs with opposite or whorled leaves and sometimes squarish stalks. The flowers are regular and usually bisexual with 4 or 5 separate sepals, 4 or 5 united petals and 4 or 5 stamens. The ovary is positioned inferior (rarely superior) and consists of 2 (sometimes 4) united carpels (syncarpous) with the partition walls present, forming an equal number of chambers. Most members of the family produce a capsule or a berry with numerous seeds, but Galium produces a fuzzy fruit with just two seeds. It looks like little green, fuzzy testicles. The Madder family is large, consisting of some 500 genera and 6,000 to 7,000 species, most of them in tropical climates. There are about 20 genera native to the United States, mostly in Florida with some species occurring in the southwestern states.

Key Words: Opposite or whorled leaves, 4 or 5 united petals, and a two-chambered ovary.

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Galium boreale. Northern Bedstraw.

Galium boreale. Northern Bedstraw.

Galium boreale. Northern Bedstraw.

Galium boreale. Northern Bedstraw.

Rubia tinctorum. Dyer's Madder.

Rubia tinctorum. Dyer's Madder. Photographed along the Colorado River near Grand Canyon National Park.

Rubia tinctorum. Dyer's Madder.

Rubia tinctorum. Dyer's Madder.

There are more
Madder Family pictures

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Botany in a Day
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