The species are mostly evergreen plants native to the tropics and subtropics, with a few deciduous species native to temperate regions. Ebenaceae are woody plants that frequently grow in poor or acids soils establishing a mycorrhizal symbiotic relationship with particular fungus species providing mainly mineral nutrients and water. Ebenaceae are very resistant, rustic and ornamental trees by their beautiful foliage. Certain species of Diospyros are the sources of most kinds of ebony wood, and not all species bear an edible fruit.
They are a pantropical family, most diverse in the rainforests of Malesia, India, tropical Africa and tropical America but a few species extended to live in temperate regions. Most species have relatively small fruit, but apple and plum sizes are frequent. They are of great environmental importance because they are the food of many vertebrates.
The calyx often remains attached to the fruit after harvesting, but becomes easier to remove as it ripens. The deciduous Diospyros kaki from Korea and Japan, cultivated in Mediterranean area too, is the most widely cultivated species.
The fruits are rich in tannins and thus avoided by most herbivores when unripe; when ripe they are eagerly eaten by many animals however, such as the rare Aders' Duiker (Cephalophus adersi). They are high in glucose, with a balanced protein profile, and possess various medicinal and chemical uses.
Many botanical species in other families have similar foliage as Rutaceae or Lauraceae due to convergent evolution, and forests of such plants are Cloud forest called laurel forest. These plants are adapted to high rainfall and humidity, and have leaves with a generous layer of wax, making them glossy in appearance, and a narrow, pointed-oval shape with a 'drip tip', which permits the leaves to shed water despite the humidity, allowing transpiration to continue. The foliage is food by larvae of numerous Lepidoptera species.
The aroma of the plant can be strong. Some species have aromatic wood. They are important and conspicuous trees in many of their native ecosystems, such as lowland dry forests of the former Maui Nui in Hawaii, Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests, Kathiarbar-Gir dry deciduous forests, Louisiade Archipelago rain forests, Madagascar lowland forests, Narmada Valley dry deciduous forests, New Guinea mangroves or South Western Ghats montane rain forests. There are four genera in Ebenaceae.
- Lissocarpa includes only a few species native to tropical South America.
- Euclea contains 20 species, mostly relictic, native to Africa, the Comoro Islands, and Arabia.
- Diospyros contains 700-750 species.
The Ebony is a dense black wood. It come from a species of tree that given the name Ebenaceae to the family (Taxonomy of vascular plants, G.H.M.Lawrence, 1951), but ebony nowadays also refer to other woods from unrelated species. Ebony include several species in the genus Diospyros, include Diospyros ebenum (Ceylon ebony), native to southern India and Sri Lanka; Diospyros crassiflora (Gaboon ebony), native to western Africa; and Diospyros celebica (Macassar ebony), native to Indonesia and prized for its luxuriant, multi-colored wood grain. Mauritius ebony, Diospyros tesselaria, was largely exploited by the Dutch in the 17th century. Some species in the genus Diospyros yield an ebony with similar physical properties, but striped rather than evenly black (Diospyros ebenum). As a result of unsustainable harvesting, many species yielding ebony are now considered threatened. Africa in particular has had most of its indigenous ebony cut down illegally.
Trees or shrubs usually dioecious, sometimes monoecious. They are evergreen, sometimes deciduous, ericales with leaves alternate or rarely opposite, simple, whole, stipules absent, more or less leathery some times lauroid. Often have two-ranked leaves without teeth. The leaves have flat, dark-coloured glands on the lower surface. The roots and bark have a black color too. They have extrafloral nectaries on abaxial leaf surfaces, a persistent calyx, biovulate carpels with pendulous ovules, and a similar wood anatomy. Flowers are unisexual, sometimes hermaphrodite. Inflorescence cymose or solitary flowers, axillary flowers actinomorphics. The flowers show considerable variability but mostly actinomorphic, tetramerous or pentamerous in general. When there are female flowers, with staminodes. The corolla gamopetalous and urceolate. Fruit a juicy or leathery berry, sometimes a capsule. A persistent calyx on the fruits is characteristic of the family. The fruits remain on the tree after the leaves fall, giving the trees a special look. The fruits are of high nutritional value. Furthermore, are rich in vitamins and tannins, the seed dispersal is by vertebrates as reptils, mammals and birds.
The family name Ebenaceae is based on the genus name Ebenus Kuntze, published in 1891. That name is a later homonym of Ebenus L., a genus in family Fabaceae, and is thus illegitimate. The plant that Kuntze had named Ebenus was accordingly reassigned to the genus Maba, which in turn has since been included in the genus Diospyros.
However, because the family name Ebenaceae had become so well known, being used in major botanical references such as Bentham and Hooker's Genera Plantarum, Engler and Prantl's Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien, and Hutchinson's Families of Flowering Plants, it was conserved and is therefore legitimate.
The genera of Ebenaceae include:
|Bisaschersonia||Kuntze||Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 408||1891|
|Brayodendron||Small||Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 28(6): 356||1901|
|Cargilia||Hassk.||Cat. Hort. Bogor.ed. 2 159||1844|
|Cargillia||R. Br.||Prodr. 526||1810|
|Cargyllia||Steud.||Nom. ed. 2 1: 298||1840|
|Dactylus||Forssk.||Fl. Aegypt.-Arab. xxxvi||1775|
|Danzleria||Bertero ex A.DC.||Prodr. 8: 224||1844|
|Diospyros||L.||Sp. Pl. 2: 1057–1058||1753|
|Diplonema||G. Don||Gen. Hist. 4: 38, 42||1837|
|Ebenoxylon||Spreng.||Gen. Pl. 1: 40||1830|
|Ebenoxylum||Lour.||Fl. Cochinch. 613||1790|
|Embryopteris||Gaertn.||Fruct. Sem. Pl. 1: 145||1788|
|Euclea||L.||Syst. Veg. (ed. 13) 747||1774|
|Ferreola||Roxb.||Pl. Coromandel 1: 35||1795|
|Ferriola||Roxb.||Fl. Ind., ed. 1820 3: 790||1832|
|Guaiacana||Duhamel||Traite Arbres. Arbust. 1: 283||1755|
|Gunisanthus||A. DC.||Prodr. 8: 219||1844|
|Holochilus||Dalzell||Hooker's J. Bot. Kew Gard. Misc. 4: 290||1852|
|Kellaua||A. DC.||Ann. Sci. Nat., Bot., sér. 2, 18: 209||1842|
|Leucoxylum||Blume||Bijdr. Fl. Ned. Ind. 1169||1826|
|Lissocarpa||Benth.||Gen. Pl. 2(2): 667, 671||1876|
|Maba||J.R. Forst. & G. Forst.||Char. Gen. Pl. 121||1775|
|Mabola||Raf.||Sylva Tellur. 11||1838|
|Macreightia||A. DC.||Prodr. 8: 220||1844|
|Noltia||Schumach.||Beskr. Guin. Pl. 189||1827|
|Paralea||Aubl.||Hist. Pl. Guiane 1: 576, t. 231||1775|
|Persimon||Raf.||Sylva Tellur. 164||1838|
|Rhaphidanthe||Hiern ex Gürke||Nat. Pflanzenfam. 4(1): 165||1891|
|Rhipidostigma||Hassk.||Natuurk. Tijdschr. Ned.-Indie% 10: 103||1856|
|Ropourea||Aubl.||Hist. Pl. Guiane 1: 198, t. 78||1775|
|Rospidios||A. DC.||Prodr. 8: 220||1844|
|Royena||L.||Sp. Pl. 1: 397||1753|
|Royenia||Spreng.||Gen. Pl. 1: 373||1830|
|Rymia||Endl.||Gen. Pl. 743||1839|
|Tetraclis||Hiern||Trans. Cambridge Philos. Soc. 12: 271||1873|
|Thespesocarpus||Pierre||Bull. Mens. Soc. Linn. Paris 1258||1896|
An economically significant plant pathogen infecting many Diospyros species – D. hispida, Kaki Persimmon (D. kaki), Date-plum (D. lotus), Texas Persimmon (D. texana), Coromandel Ebony (D. melanoxylon) and probably others – is the sac fungus Pseudocercospora kaki, which causes a leaf spot disease. The foliage is used as food by the larvae of numerous Lepidoptera species:
- Neopithecops zalmora (Quaker)
- Charaxes khasianus (Kihansi Charaxes) – recorded on D. natalensis
- Dophla evelina (Redspot Duke) – recorded on D. candolleana
- Actias luna (Luna Moth) – recorded on persimmons
- Callosamia promethea (Promethea Silkmoth) – recorded on persimmons
- Citheronia regalis (Regal Moth) – recorded on American Persimmon (D. virginiana)
- "Cnephasia" jactatana (Black-lyre Leafroller Moth)
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