As traditionally circumscribed the Sterculiaceae, Malvaceae, Bombacaceae, and Tiliaceae comprise the "core Malvales" of the Cronquist system and the close relationship among these families is generally recognized. Sterculiaceae may be separated from Malvaceae sensu stricto by the smooth surface of the pollen grains and the bilocular anthers.
Numerous phylogenetic studies have revealed that Sterculiaceae, Tiliaceae and Bombacaceae as traditionally defined are cladistically polyphyletic. The APG and APG II systems unite Bombacaceae, Malvaceae sensu stricto, Sterculiaceae and Tiliaceae into a more widely circumscribed Malvaceae, i.e., Malvaceae sensu lato. In that view the taxa formerly classified in Sterculiaceae are treated in the subfamilies Byttnerioideae, Dombeyoideae, Helicteroideae and Sterculioideae of the Malvaceae sensu lato. The Thorne system takes an intermediate approach in combining the bulk of the traditional Sterculiaceae (but not including Sterculia itself) with elements of the traditional Tiliaceae to form the family Byttneriaceae.
Sterculiaceae had previously been recognized as a family by most systematists; in its traditional sense the family includes about 70 genera, totalling around 1,500 species of tropical trees and shrubs. The most famous products of the family are chocolate and cocoa from Theobroma cacao, followed by kola nuts. Many species yield timber.
A 2006 molecular study indicated the Sterculioideae was most likely to be a monophyletic group, and that it had four major clades within it. However, the relationships between the clades were not resolved.
- Wilkie, Peter; Clark, Alexandra; Pennington, R. Toby; Cheek, Martin; Bayer, Clemens; Wilcock, Chris C. (2006). "Phylogenetic Relationships within the Subfamily Sterculioideae (Malvaceae/Sterculiaceae-Sterculieae) Using the Chloroplast Gene ndhF". Systematic Botany. 31 (1): 160–70. doi:10.1600/036364406775971714.
- Whitlock, B. A., C. Bayer, and D. A. Baum. 2001. Phylogenetic Relationships and Floral Evolution of the Byttnerioideae ("Sterculiaceae" or Malvaceae s.l.) Based on Sequences of the Chloroplast Gene, ndhF. Systematic Botany 26: 420–437 (abstract online here).
- Wilkie, P., Clark, A., Pennington, R. T., Cheek, M., Bayer, C. & Wilcock, C. C. (2006).Phylogenetic Relationships within the Subfamily Sterculioideae (Malvaceae/Sterculiaceae-Sterculieae) Using the Chloroplast Gene ndhF. Systematic Botany 31(1):160-170.
- Sterculiaceae in L. Watson and M.J. Dallwitz (1992 onwards) The families of flowering plants: descriptions.
- Malvaceae/Sterculiaceae - Sterculieae at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh