The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Cyrillaceae the Cyrilla Family, Sometimes Called the Titi Family

- June 1, 2015 - - (excerpt)

The Cyrillaceae is a small family consisting of only 3 genera and about 14 species of woody deciduous or evergreen shrubs and trees that are native to North America, South America, and the West Indies (The group of islands of the Caribbean Area between North and South America). The genera Cyrilla and Cliftonia are native to Southeastern U.S.

The leaves are alternate, simple (not compound), entire (not toothed, notched or divided) and are usually borne toward the ends of branches.

The flowers are radially symmetrical1, bisexual2, and in terminal or axillary3 racemes.4[5] There are usually 5 sepals5, 5 petals, and 5 or 10 stamens. The ovary is superior with 2 to 4 carpels6, 1 style7, 2 stigmas and 1-2 ovules8 per ovary chamber.

Even though this is a very small family for which I would think it would be easy to describe the fruits, there seems to be considerable variation in these descriptions, and they don’t always seem to agree with each other. Hortus Third[6] describes them as being drupaceous9 or dry and sometimes winged, suggesting that some have their seed enclosed in a hard shell like a cherry or peach, or they may be dry and sometimes winged like a maple or elm seed though, the wings would be much smaller than these examples. Smith[16] describes them as a capsule10 or berry11 which suggests to me that some are dry and the seeds escape by the fruit splitting into sections, or through slits, pores, or teeth, while others are fleshy, perhaps like a very small tomato. Cullen[5]describes them as dry and indehiscent12 suggesting that they are dry and there is no distinct opening mechanism, they just split open. Lemke[7], in the Flora of North America, describes them as berry-like or samara-like13, dry and indehiscent. I suspect that this seemingly great variation is the result of representing the world’s members of the family and/or they do not fit nicely into these definitions. If you are interested only in the U.S. species, I would concentrate on the definitions presented by Lemke[7] and Cullen.[5]

Buckwheat tree, buckwheat bush, titi, black titi, ironwood

Scientific name: Cliftonia monophylla

Origin: The species is native to at least southeastern United States.

Plant description: Nelson[10 & 11] describes Cliftonia monophylla as an evergreen shrub or small tree with blackish bark that grows to about 8m (~26.2 ft). Pollet, writing about the bee forage of Louisiana, describes it as growing to about 30 or 40 ft (~9.1 or 12.2 m). The species is a thicket former that creates dense stands in areas suited to its growth (see Distribution below).

The leaves are placed alternately14, are simple (not compound), entire15, elliptic16 to oblanceolate17 to oblanceolate-obovate18 and range between 2.5 to 10 cm (~0.98 to 3.9 in) in length. The mature leaves are dark green, leathery and glossy above and glaucous19 beneath. The young leaves on fruiting branches are pale bluish green. They are normally sessile20 and only rarely have stout petioles.21 The veins in the lower surface are quite inconspicuous.

The flowers are fragrant, white to pinkish, and are distributed in erect terminal or axillary racemes that are about 3.5 inches (~8.9 cm) long. They have 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 10 stamens that are arranged in two whorls of 5.

The fruit is 2 to 5 (generally 4) winged. In early summer the buckwheat-like fruits are a shiny golden amber and hang from the trees in conspicuous clusters. The conspicuous darkened remains of spent clusters can often be found the year around and afford an easy identification. The fruits contain 3 to 4 roundish light brown seeds.[1]

Distribution: The species is native to swamps along the coastal plain from