The green links below add additional plants to the comparison table. Blue links lead to other Web sites.
enable glossary links

Mascarene Island leaf-flower


Habit Herbs, annual, monoecious, 2–5 dm; branching phyllanthoid. Herbs, shrubs, or trees, annual or perennial, terrestrial (P. fluitans floating aquatic), usually monoecious, sometimes dioecious, glabrous or hairy, hairs simple [branched]; branching phyllanthoid or not.

main stems terete, not winged, glabrous or scabridulous; ultimate branchlets subterete, not winged, glabrous or scabridulous.

erect to prostrate.


on main stems spiral, scalelike;

stipules not auriculate, reddish brown.;

leaves on ultimate branchlets distichous, well developed;

stipules not auriculate, pale green or pink with paler margins;

blade elliptic to obovate, 6–25 × 4–11 mm, base acute to rounded, apex acute to obtuse, both surfaces glabrous.

persistent or deciduous, alternate, simple, all well developed, scalelike on main stems and well developed on ultimate branchlets, or rarely all scalelike;

stipules persistent;

blade margins entire.


cymules or flowers solitary, proximal bisexual with 1–2 pistillate flowers and 2–3 staminate flowers, distal with 1 pistillate flower.

unisexual or bisexual, cymules or flowers solitary.


staminate 0.5–1.5 mm, pistillate flexuous, capillary, and pendent in fruit, (2.5–)3–8 mm.

present, pistillate sometimes elongating in fruit.

Staminate flowers

sepals 5, white except green midrib, flat, 0.4–0.7 mm;

nectary extrastaminal, 5 glands;

stamens 5, filaments distinct.

sepals 4–6, connate basally;

petals 0;

nectary extrastaminal, 4–6 glands (intrastaminal, annular, 4-lobed in P. warnockii);

stamens 2–5[–15];

filaments distinct or partially to completely connate;

connectives not extending beyond anthers;

pistillode absent.

Pistillate flowers

sepals 5, white except green midrib, flat, 0.6–0.8 mm, 1-veined;

nectary annular, unlobed.

sepals persistent, (4–)5–6, connate basally;

petals 0;

nectary annular to cupular, entire or lobed, or distinct glands [absent];

pistil 3(–4)-carpellate;

styles 3(–4), distinct or connate to 1/2 length, 2-fid [rarely unbranched].


capsules or drupes.


1.7–1.9 mm diam., smooth.


uniformly brown, 0.8–0.9 mm, evenly papillate.

2 per locule, rounded-trigonous;

seed coat dry, verrucose, papillate, ribbed, or smooth;

caruncle absent.


= 8, 9, 13.


= 26.

Phyllanthus tenellus


Phenology Flowering and fruiting spring–fall (year-round in southern areas).
Habitat Fields, gardens, roadsides, other disturbed areas, especially with sandy soils.
Elevation 10–500 m. (0–1600 ft.)
from FNA
AL; FL; GA; LA; MS; NC; SC; TN; TX; VA; Asia; Africa; Indian Ocean Islands [Introduced in North America; introduced also in Mexico, West Indies, South America, Atlantic Islands (Macaronesia), Pacific Islands, Australia]
[WildflowerSearch map]
[BONAP county map]
from USDA
North America; Mexico; Central America; South America; West Indies; Asia; Africa; Indian Ocean Islands; Pacific Islands; Australia; primarily tropical and subtropical regions [Introduced in Bermuda, Atlantic Islands, (Macaronesia)]
[BONAP county map]

Phyllanthus tenellus is easily recognized by its long, capillary pistillate pedicels that are flexuous and pendent in fruit; it is native to the Mascarene Islands and perhaps to eastern Africa, other western Indian Ocean Islands, and the Arabian Peninsula, and is widely naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. It appears to have been introduced into Florida in the 1920s and is continuing to spread. Phyllanthus tenellus has been reported from Arkansas (E. Sundell et al. 1999) and California as a nursery weed (G. F. Hrusa, pers. comm.), and from Oklahoma in flower beds (B. W. Hoagland, pers. comm.), and may be expected to become naturalized in those states.

(Discussion copyrighted by Flora of North America; reprinted with permission.)

Species 800–850 (16 in the flora).

Phyllanthus is by far the largest genus in Phyllanthaceae and shows tremendous diversity in habit, from trees to small annual herbs, including a floating aquatic herb. Most species exhibit phyllanthoid branching (G. L. Webster 1956–1958), with well-developed leaves and flowers produced only on the ultimate branchlets, which in woody species are deciduous, and scalelike leaves on all other stems (referred to as main stems in this treatment; see family discussion for more details). Phylogenetic studies using DNA sequence data suggest that phyllanthoid branching evolved once and has been lost repeatedly, including within the clades containing P. caroliniensis and P. warnockii (H. Kathriarachchi et al. 2006). These studies also indicated that Phyllanthus is paraphyletic and that few of the subgenera and sections used by Webster (1956–1958, 1967) are monophyletic (K. Wurdack et al. 2004; Kathriarachchi et al. 2005, 2006; P. Hoffmann et al. 2006). However, it is premature to revise the classification of the genus (Kathriarachchi et al. 2006) and the sequence of species used here generally follows the classification by Webster (1956–1958, 1967, 1970). Exceptions are P. warnockii, which he treated as the sole member of Reverchonia but molecular phylogenetic studies show to be embedded in Phyllanthus (Kathriarachchi et al. 2006), and P. fluitans, which he did not treat; the latter species appears to be closely related to P. caroliniensis (Kathriarachchi et al. 2006).

A number of Phyllanthus species are of economic importance. Some cladode-producing species, especially P. angustifolius and P. epiphyllanthus Linnaeus, are grown as ornamental shrubs in tropical and subtropical areas (and in hothouses elsewhere); the former species has become sparingly naturalized in south Florida. Otaheite (or Tahitian) gooseberry tree, P. acidus, is grown throughout the tropics for its tart drupes; it has naturalized in south Florida. The floating aquatic herb P. fluitans (floating spurge or red root floater), is increasingly popular for use in tropical fish aquaria. Both P. amarus and P. urinaria have become weeds throughout tropical and subtropical areas, including the southeastern United States, and the American P. caroliniensis has become a weed in southeast Asia. Several annual species, notably P. niruri and P. urinaria, are widely used in folk medicine to treat a variety of ailments, especially urinary problems, and are now the subject of intense pharmacological research.

In Phyllanthus, taxa that are not consistently distinct morphologically but are geographically disjunct are recognized as subspecies (for example, P. caroliniensis subspp. caroliniensis and saxicola). Those that intergrade morphologically and geographically, as in P. abnormis, are treated as varieties.

(Discussion copyrighted by Flora of North America; reprinted with permission.)

1. Floating aquatic herbs.
P. fluitans
1. Terrestrial herbs, shrubs, or trees.
→ 2
2. Branching not phyllanthoid; leaves all well developed.
→ 3
3. Leaves distichous; staminate sepals 0.5–0.7 mm.
→ 4
4. Stems terete, not winged; capsules 1.6–2 mm diam.; seeds 0.7–1.1 mm.
P. caroliniensis
4. Stems proximally terete, distally compressed, winged; capsules 2.8–3.2 mm diam.; seeds 1.3–1.5 mm.
P. evanescens
3. Leaves spiral; staminate sepals 0.7–2.5 mm.
→ 5
5. Sepals dark reddish purple, medially incurved and distally spreading; stamens 2, filaments distinct; staminate nectary intrastaminal, annular, 4-lobed; capsules 7–9.8 mm diam.; seeds mottled, (4.4–)4.7–6.2(–6.6) mm.
P. warnockii
5. Sepals green, greenish yellow, or pale brown, sometimes suffused with red, flat; stamens 3, filaments connate 2/3+ length; staminate nectary extrastaminal, 6 glands; capsules 2–4 mm diam.; seeds uniformly colored, 0.9–1.8 mm.
→ 6
6. Shrubs; leaf blades 1.5–3.5(–5) × 0.7–1.5 mm, apices pungent; staminate pedicels 0.6–0.8 mm, pistillate 0.9–1.2 mm; capsules 2 mm diam.; seeds 0.9–1 mm.
P. ericoides
6. Perennial herbs; leaf blades 5–24 × 1.5–10 mm, apices rounded, mucronulate, or apiculate; staminate pedicels 1.5–3.5 mm, pistillate 2.5–8 mm; capsules 2.7–4 mm diam.; seeds (1.1–)1.2–1.8 mm.
→ 7
7. Herbs with woody caudices; leaf blades 5–10 × 1.5–5 mm; pistillate sepals 1.5–2.5 mm; capsules 2.7–3.2 mm diam.; seeds (1.1–)1.2–1.4(–1.5) mm.
P. polygonoides
7. Herbs with rhizomes; leaf blades 10–24 × 5–10 mm; pistillate sepals 2.8–3.5 mm; capsules 4 mm diam.; seeds 1.7–1.8 mm.
P. liebmannianus
2. Branching phyllanthoid; leaves on main stems scalelike, on ultimate branchlets well developed or scalelike.
→ 8
8. Shrubs or trees.
→ 9
9. Ultimate branchlets terete; leaves on ultimate branchlets well developed, deciduous with branchlets; fruits drupes.
P. acidus
9. Ultimate branchlets flat (cladodes); leaves on ultimate branchlets scalelike, caducous; fruits capsules.
P. angustifolius
8. Herbs.
→ 10
10. Stamens 5, filaments distinct; pistillate pedicels flexuous and pendent in fruit.
P. tenellus
10. Stamens 2–3, filaments connate; pistillate pedicels spreading in fruit.
→ 11
11. Leaf blade abaxial surfaces hispidulous near margins; staminate pedicels 0.1–0.2 mm, pistillate 0.3–0.5 mm; capsules ± tuberculate; seeds transversely ribbed.
P. urinaria
11. Leaf blade abaxial surfaces glabrous or scabridulous; staminate pedicels 0.2–1.8 mm, pistillate (1–)1.2–7 mm; capsules smooth; seeds verrucose or longitudinally ribbed.
→ 12
12. Pistillate sepals 3–3.5 mm, pinnately veined; staminate sepals 1.5–3 mm; seeds verrucose, 1.5–1.8 mm; capsules 3.5 mm diam.; pistillate nectary annular, unlobed.
P. niruri
12. Pistillate sepals (0.5–)0.7–1.5 mm, 1-veined or obscurely veined; staminate sepals 0.3–1 mm; seeds longitudinally ribbed, 0.8–1.5 mm; capsules 1.7–2.7 mm diam.; pistillate nectary 3 glands or annular and 5–9-lobed.
→ 13
13. Perennial herbs; stipules of main stems dark brown, auriculate; capsules 1.7–1.9 mm diam.; seeds 0.8–0.9 mm.
P. pentaphyllus
13. Annual herbs; stipules of main stems pale green to pale brown, not auriculate; capsules 1.9–2.7 mm diam.; seeds 0.9–1.5 mm.
→ 14
14. Ultimate branchlets narrowly winged, main stems angled; distal inflorescences of solitary pistillate flowers.
P. fraternus
14. Ultimate branchlets not winged, main stems terete; distal inflorescences of 1 pistillate flower and 1–3 staminate flowers.
→ 15
15. Pistillate nectary annular, 5–7-lobed; staminate sepals 5(–6); capsules 1.9–2.1 mm diam.; seeds 0.9–1 mm.
P. amarus
15. Pistillate nectary 3 glands; staminate sepals 5–6 in flowers of basal cymules, 4 in flowers of distal cymules; capsules 2.3–2.7 mm diam.; seeds 1.1–1.5 mm.
P. abnormis
Source FNA vol. 12, p. 340. FNA vol. 12, p. 335. Author: Geoffrey A. Levin.
Parent taxa Phyllanthaceae > Phyllanthus Phyllanthaceae
Sibling taxa
P. abnormis, P. acidus, P. amarus, P. angustifolius, P. caroliniensis, P. ericoides, P. evanescens, P. fluitans, P. fraternus, P. liebmannianus, P. niruri, P. pentaphyllus, P. polygonoides, P. urinaria, P. warnockii
Subordinate taxa
P. abnormis, P. acidus, P. amarus, P. angustifolius, P. caroliniensis, P. ericoides, P. evanescens, P. fluitans, P. fraternus, P. liebmannianus, P. niruri, P. pentaphyllus, P. polygonoides, P. tenellus, P. urinaria, P. warnockii
Synonyms Reverchonia
Name authority Roxburgh: Fl. Ind. ed. 1832, 3: 668. (1832) Linnaeus: Sp. Pl. 2: 981. (1753): Gen. Pl. ed. 5, 422. (1754)
Web links