Species distribution and density. Darker squares represent higher density of members of this family.


(including Hydrophyllaceae)
Forget-me-not family

Although this family is probably better known for its beautiful exotic garden plants and as an interesting addition to salads, there are some very attractive and colourful indigenous species. The classification of the family Boraginaceae is still somewhat problematic. In some systems the family is split up into several families.


In southern Africa the family is well represented and has higher densities in the eastern and western regions than in the central parts. In the rest of the world many of the tree species are tropical, while the herbaceous genera are widespread, especially in the Mediterranean.

Number of genera in the world

ca. 153

Number of species in the world

ca. 2 775

Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region



Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region


Well-known southern African genera

Cordia, Ehretia, Heliotropium, Lobostemon, Myosotis, Trichodesma.

Growth forms

The southern African species are mostly annual or perennial herbs or shrubs and a few small trees, while there are some large trees in the tropics.


On sandy soils in the Western Cape; and in grassveld and bushveld to the north. Weedy species are mostly found on disturbed soils.

Flagship species

Trichodesma physaloides (chocolate bells; slangkop [A]) is a very characteristic species of the grassveld and flowers prolifically after fire. It is characterised by the large, dark purplish-brown bracts and white, pendulous flowers that grace the tops of the small compact shrubs. Leaves are lance-shaped, grey-green and smooth.


Significance of the family

The indigenous Lobostemon (agdaegeneesbos, douwurmbos [A]) is used for dressing sores or in a decoction as an antiseptic. Ehretia rigida (puzzle bush; deurmekaarbos [A]) bears orange berries, which attract birds, and the branches are pliable and used to make bows and baskets. Several exotic or naturalised species are well known as ornamentals: Myosotis (forget-me-not), *Symphytum (comfrey), Lithospermum (stoneseed), Heliotropium (heliotrope). Comfrey is mixed into an ointment for sprains, arthritis, bruises and cuts. *Echium plantagineum (blueweed; bloudissel [A]) is an undesirable, invasive weed, which is poisonous to livestock.

Diagnostic characters

Leaves usually alternate , often bristly with conspicuous stiff hairs  that are usually unicellular and mounted on a multicellular base. Inflorescence 1-sided and coiled ; corolla usually tubular to trumpet-shaped , regular ; petals fused, often with outgrowths; ovary superior, 4-lobed with 4 ovules. Fruit often a schizocarp splitting into four 1-seeded nutlets .

Did you know?

*Symphytum (comfrey) can be used as compost activator.