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


Star-chestnut family

Members of this family include trees, shrubs, dwarf shrubs and herbs and are usually characterised by the presence of star-shaped hairs. In this contribution the Sterculiaceae is treated at family level, but in recent classifications it is placed within the Malvaceae.


Generally cosmopolitan but with higher diversification in the tropical and subtropical regions. In southern Africa it is widely distributed with higher species diversity in the southwestern Cape and Highveld.

Number of genera in the world

ca. 72

Number of species in the world

ca. 1 500

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

Cola, Dombeya, Hermannia, Melhania, Sterculia, Waltheria

Growth forms

Trees, shrubs, dwarf shrubs and herbs.


Mostly found in savanna, forest, open scrub and woodland, grassland and arid regions.

Flagship species

Sterculia murex (Lowveld chestnut; Laeveldse kastaiing [A]; mohlatsane [NS]) is an attractive tree 6-12 m high with large palmate leaves, sprays of yellow flowers and sculptured fruit. It makes for an ideal shade tree in tropical and subtropical climates. This tree grows relatively fast, but the soft wood is of little use. Seeds are roasted and eaten as nuts by indigenous people. The fruit is often used as an ashtray. Upon dehiscence of the fruit, the star-like hairs, characteristic of the family, are clearly visible.


Significance of the family

The seeds of *Theobroma cacao are used for the production of chocolate, cacao powder and cacao butter. Many of the species are grown for their ornamental use in gardens (e.g. Sterculia). The seeds of Cola contain caffeine and theobromine and are used as a stimulant. Some species that yield hard wood are used in the timber industry. Some Sterculia species yield gum.

Diagnostic characters

Leaves alternate , usually palmately-lobed  with star-shaped hairs , stipules present. Flowers regular . Corolla 5, free , twisted in the bud. Anthers 5-15, arranged opposite corolla, free or fused into a short tube; sterile anthers sometimes present. Ovary superior with 1-5 locules. Fruit a capsule . (Photos  ,  ,  : GN).

Did you know?

Worldwide there are 5-6 million cocao farmers; 40-50 million people are depend on cocao for their livelihood.