Malvales

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Malvales is the name of an order of flowering plants. As circumscribed by APG II-system, it includes about 6000 species within nine families. The order is placed in the eurosids II, which are part of the eudicots.

The plants are mostly shrubs and trees; most of its families have a cosmopolitan distribution in the tropics and subtropics with limited expansion into temperate regions. An interesting distribution occurs in Madagascar, where there are three endemic families of Malvales (Sphaerosepalaceae, Sarcolaenaceae and Diegodendraceae).

Many species of Malvaceae s.l. are known for their wood, with that of Ochroma (balsa) being known for its lightness, and that of Tilia (lime or linden) as a popular wood for carving. The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is used as an ingredient for chocolate. Kola nuts (genus Cola) are notable for their high content of caffeine, and in past were commonly used for preparing of various cola drinks. Other well-known members of Malvales in the APG II sense are daphnes, hibiscus, hollyhocks, okra, baobab trees, cotton, and kapok.

The morphology of Malvales is diverse, and there are few common characteristics. Among those most commonly encountered are palmate leaves, connate sepals, and a specific structure and chemical composition of the seeds. The cortex is often fibrous, built of soft phloem layers.

Classification

Family boundaries and circumscriptions of the "core Malvales" families Malvaceae, Bombacaceae, Tiliaceae, and Sterculiaceae have long been problematic. A close relationship among these families, and particularly Malvaceae and Bombacaceae, has generally been recognized although until recently most classification systems have maintained them as separate families. With numerous molecular phylogenies showing that Sterculiaceae, Bombacaceae, and Tiliaceae as traditionally defined are either paraphyletic or polyphyletic, a consensus has been emerging that there has been a trend to expand Malvaceae to include these three families. This expanded circumscription of Malvaceae has been recognized in the most recent version of the Thorne system, by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, and in the most recent comprehensive treatment of vascular plant families and genera, the Kubitzki system (Bayer and Kubitzki, 2003).

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