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


(including Loganiaceae)
Gentian family

A widespread family of herbs to large trees with opposite leaves and regular flowers. Plants are usually completely glabrous.


Found worldwide from arctic tundra to tropical forest, but mostly in temperate and subtropical areas. In southern Africa this family is widespread but almost absent from the dry interior.

Number of genera in the world

ca. 89

Number of species in the world

ca. 1 650

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

Chironia, Sebaea

Growth forms

Annual or perennial herbs or shrubs, seldom trees (Anthocleista).


Most often found in open, grassy places.

Flagship species

Chironia baccifera (Christmas berry; bitterbossie [A]) is a much-branced shrublet or suffrutex of up to 1 m high, found on sandy areas, mostly coastal, from Namaqualand to KwaZulu-Natal. The pink flowers appear in spring and summer, followed by red berries in late summer. It is a well-known medicinal plant used to treat haemorrhoids, diarrhoea and boils. A decoction of the plant is also taken as a blood purifier. The plant is poisonous to sheep.


Significance of the family

Many species are cultivated as garden ornamentals (*Gentiana, *Sabatia). The rhizomes contain a bitter component that is used medicinally as a digestive aid (*Gentiana, Swertia). In southern Africa, Sebaea species are used as love charm emetics or to treat snakebite and dysentery.

Diagnostic characters

Leaves opposite , or in a basal rosette, simple and often united at the base; without stipules. Flowers regular  with 4 or 5 united sepals and petals ; petals are often twisted in the bud . Ovary superior . Fruit usually a dehiscent capsule , rarely berry-like (Chironia, Anthocleista).

Did you know?

The bitter substances found in this family are the main commercial source of bitter tonic and are also used in Suze, an aperitif popular in France.