Melicope is a genus of about 240 species of shrubs and trees in the family Rutaceae, occurring from the Hawaiian Islands across the Pacific Ocean to tropical Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Plants in the genus Melicope have simple or trifoliate leaves arranged in opposite pairs, flowers arranged in panicles, with four sepals, four petals and four or eight stamens and fruit composed of up to four follicles.

Starr 020925-0080 Melicope clusiifolia.jpg
Melicope clusiifolia
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Rutaceae
Subfamily: Zanthoxyloideae
Genus: Melicope
J.R.Forst. & G.Forst[1]

About 230, see text

Flowers of Melicope rubra


Plants in the genus Melicope have simple or trifoliate leaves arranged in opposite pairs, or sometimes whorled. The flowers are arranged in panicles and are bisexual or sometimes with functionally male- or female-only flowers. The flowers have four sepals, four petals and four or eight stamens. There are four, sometimes five, carpels fused at the base with fused styles, the stigma similar to the tip of the style. The fruit is composed of up to four follicles fused at the base, each with one or two seeds.[2][3][4]


The genus Melicope was first formally described in 1775 by Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster in their book Characteres Generum Plantarum and the first species they described (the type species) was Melicope ternata.[5]

The generic name Melicope is derived from Greek words μελι (meli), meaning "honey," and κοπη (kope), meaning "a division," referring to the glands at the base of the ovary.[6] The 2009 Takhtajan system placed the genus in the subfamily Rutoideae, tribe Zanthoxyleae.[7] A 2021 subfamily classification of the Rutaceae, based both on a new and previous molecular phylogenetic studies, places Melicope (with an expanded circumscription) in the subfamily Zanthoxyloideae, stating that the evidence does not yet support classification to tribal level.[8]

Evidence from 2007 onwards showed that with its traditional circumscription, Melicope was not monophyletic. The previously separated genus Platydesma of four species is nested within the genus Melicope and is sister to all Hawaiian Melicope species. And while Melicope species are usually dioecious (individual plants only bear either male or female flowers), the flowers of the former Platydesma are hermaphroditic, suggesting a rare evolutionary reversion away from dioecy in Platydesma.[9] Molecular phylogenetic analyses also suggest that the genera Comptonella, Dutaillyea, Picrella, and possibly Dutailliopsis, all from New Caledonia, might also be nested in Melicope,[10] although they are accepted in the 2021 classification, as is the temperate Asian genus Tetradium,[8] which has sometimes been merged into Melicope (possibly including the tropical Euodia).[11][9]


Melicopes are foodplants for various animals, mainly invertebrates. Caterpillars of the Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) are fond of M. elleryana. Caterpillars of Thyrocopa moths have been found on M. clusiifolia. The larvae of some belid weevils from the genus Proterhinus also feed on Melicope although they prefer unhealthy, dying or dead specimens. The plants of some species may not be safe for humans. The nectar of wharangi (M. ternata) is known to yield toxic honey that may kill whoever eats it.[12]


Several of the Hawaiian species are listed as "endangered" by the Government of the United States of America, due to habitat loss and competition from invasive non-native plants. A few species are already extinct.

Species listEdit

The following is a list of species accepted by the Plants of the World Online as at July 2020:[13]


  1. ^ a b "Melicope J.R.Forst. & G.Forst". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  2. ^ Hartley, Thomas G.; Wilson, Annette J.G. (ed.) (2013). Flora of Australia (Volume 26). Canberra: Australian Biological Resources Study. p. 95. Retrieved 24 July 2020.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Hartley, Thomas Gordon (February 2001). "On the Taxonomy and Biogeography of Euodia and Melicope (Rutaceae)". Allertonia. 8 (1): 66. JSTOR 23189298.
  4. ^ Richards, P.G. "Genus Melicope". Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Melicope". Australian Plant Census. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  6. ^ Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names. III: M-Q. CRC Press. p. 1652. ISBN 978-0-8493-2677-6.
  7. ^ Takhtajan, Armen (2009). Flowering Plants (2 ed.). Springer. p. 375. ISBN 978-1-4020-9608-2.
  8. ^ a b Appelhans, Marc S.; Bayly, Michael J.; Heslewood, Margaret M.; Groppo, Milton; Verboom, G. Anthony; Forster, Paul I.; Kallunki, Jacquelyn A. & Duretto, Marco F. (2021), "A new subfamily classification of the Citrus family (Rutaceae) based on six nuclear and plastid markers", Taxon, doi:10.1002/tax.12543
  9. ^ a b Harbaugh, D.T.; Wagner, W.L.; Allan, G.J.; Zimmer, E.A. (2009). "The Hawaiian Archipeligo is a stepping stone for dispersal in the Pacific: an example from the plant genus Melicope (Rutaceae)". Journal of Biogeography. 36 (2): 230–241. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2008.02008.x.
  10. ^ Appelhans MS, Wen J, Wagner WL (2014). "A molecular phylogeny of Acronychia, Euodia, Melicope and relatives (Rutaceae) reveals polyphyletic genera and key innovations for species richness". Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 79: 54–68. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2014.06.014. PMID 24971739.
  11. ^ Hartley (2001)
  12. ^ Espina-Prez & Ordetx-Ros (1983): p.35
  13. ^ "Melicope". Plants of the World Online/Kew SScience. Retrieved 23 July 2020.

External linksEdit

  • Espina-Prez, D. & Ordetx-Ros, G.S. (1983): Flora Apcola Tropical [in Spanish]. Editorial Tecnolgico de Costa Rica, Cartago, Costa Rica.
  • Hartley, Thomas Gordon & Stone, Benjamin Clemens (1989): Reduction of Pelea with new combinations in Melicope (Rutaceae). Taxon 38(1): 119–123. First page image