Actinidiaceae, or the Chinese Gooseberry family, is a small family of plants. It includes three genera and about 360 species. It is a member of the order Ericales.
They are temperate and subtropical woody vines, shrubs and trees, native to Asia (Actinidia or kiwifruit, Clematoclethra, Saurauia) and Central America and South America (Saurauia only). Saurauia is with its 300 species the largest genus in this family. Although now confined to Asia and tropical Central and South America, there is evidence that in the past the family had a wider distribution. The now extinct genus Parasaurauia is thought to have belonged to the Actinidiaceae and was located in North America during the early Campanian.
The plants are usually small trees or shrubs, or sometimes vines (Actinidia). The alternate, simple, spiral leaves have serrate or entire margins. They lack stipules or are minutely stipulate. They are often beset with rather flattened bristles.
The flowers grow solitary or are aggregated in terminal cymes, with free sepals and petals. Except for members of the genus Clematoclethra which have 10 stamens, the stamens are numerous and originally attached at the back. They invert just before the flower starts expanding, so that their bases become apical.
The plants may be dioecious, monoecious or hermaphroditic. The fruit is usually a berry, such as the edible kiwifruit, a cultivar from the genus Actinidia.
Evidence supporting placement within the Ericales
Before genetic evidence appeared in the last 10 years, the placement of the Actinidiaceae within the Ericales was highly controversial. The USDA Plants Database, a resource that is considered authoritative, still places the Actinidaceae within the Theales, an order which has been shown not to be monophyletic. Placement of the Actinidiaceae within the Ericales has been strongly supported by genetic evidence over the past 10 years, and contrary to previous thought, it is not a basal member of the Ericales. Multiple studies using genetic evidence now firmly place the Actinidiaceae in the Ericoid clade, a monophyletic group consisting of the Ericaceae, the Cyrillaceae, the Clethraceae, the Sarraceniaceae, and the Roridulaceae. Furthermore, genetic evidence points to the Actinidiaceae being sister to the Roridulaceae, and with the Roridulaceae and Sarraceniaceae, forming another, smaller, monophyletic group.
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