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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Pedaliaceae (sesame family)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Asterids > Euasterid I > Order: Lamiales

There are about 13 genera and 70 species worldwide (mainly tropics and subtropics) of which eight genera and 32 species are native to southern Africa, mainly in semi-arid regions. An additional two species are cultivated in the region.

Distinguishing characteristics

  • Herbs or shrubs with mucilaginous hairs.
  • Flowers are large and symmetric in only one axis (monosymmetric or zygomorphic).
  • Ovary is superior and has axile placentation.
  • Fruits in many species have protuberances such as hooks and prickles.

Information from Angiosperm Phylogeny Website.

Genera native to southern Africa

This list from Smithies (2000) excludes the naturalised genera Ibicella and Proboscidea, which are placed in the Martyniaceae (following Angiosperm Phylogeny Website).


There are five species of which four are native to southern Africa.



Three species (tropical and subtropical Africa), all of which occur in southern Africa.



Two species, endemic to southern Africa. The prickliness of the fruits is probably an adaptation for dispersal through trampling by animals such as ostriches (Midgley and Illing 2009).



One species: Holubia saccata, endemic to southern Africa. See Flora of Zimbabwe.



All 18 species are native to Africa and five of them occur in southern Africa.



Of the six species, five are found in Africa and one in Brazil. Three of them occur in southern Africa.



About five species, all African, of which three occur in southern Africa.


Sesamum (sesame genus)

About 15 species, native to Africa through to Europe through to India and Sri Lanka. There are 11 species native to southern Africa.


Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

From Glen (2002). As each of these genera has only one representative cultivated in southern Africa, the species name is provided.

Uncarina sakalava

Native to Madagascar. Midgley and Illing (2009) speculate that the large, prickly fruits of some Uncarina species were adapted for being dispersed through trampling by the now extinct Elephant bird Aepyornis.


Trapella sinensis (Hishi-modoki)

Native to China, Korea and Japan.



  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.

  • Midgley, J.J. and Illing, N. 2009. Were Malagasy Uncarina fruits dispersed by the extinct elephant bird? South African Journal of Science 105: 467-469.

  • Smithies, S.J. 2000. Pedaliaceae. In: Seed Plants of Southern Africa (ed. O.A. Leistner). Strelitzia 10: 436-440. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.