Description from Flora of China
Herbs, shrubs, or less often trees; indumentum usually with peltate scales or stellate hairs. Leaves alternate, stipulate, petiolate; leaf blade usually palmately veined, entire or various lobed. Flowers solitary, less often in small cymes or clusters, axillary or subterminal, often aggregated into terminal racemes or panicles, usually conspicuous, actinomorphic, usually bisexual (unisexual in Kydia). Epicalyx often present, forming an involucre around calyx, 3- to many lobed. Sepals 5, valvate, free or connate. Petals 5, free, contorted, or imbricate, basally adnate to base of filament tube. Stamens usually very many, filaments connate into tube; anthers 1-celled. Pollen spiny. Ovary superior, with 2-25 carpels, often separating from one another and from axis; ovules 1 to many per locule; style as many or 2 × as many as pistils, apex branched or capitate. Fruit a loculicidal capsule or a schizocarp, separating into individual mericarps, rarely berrylike when mature (Malvaviscus); carpels sometimes with an endoglossum (a crosswise projection from back wall of carpel to make it almost completely septate. Seeds often reniform, glabrous or hairy, sometimes conspicuously so.
Molecular studies have shown that the members of the Bombacaceae, Malvaceae, Sterculiaceae, and Tiliaceae form a very well-defined monophyletic group that is divided into ten also rather well-defined clades, only two of which correspond to the traditional families Bombacaceae and Malvaceae. Some of the remaining groups are included entirely within either of the remaining families but others cut across the traditional divide between the Sterculiaceae and Tiliaceae. A majority of authors, most notably Bayer and Kubitzki (Fam. Gen. Vasc. Pl. 5: 225-311. 2003), has favored including everything within a greatly enlarged Malvaceae, and treating the individual clades as subfamilies. The alternative view is that the individual clades should be treated as a series of ten families: Bombacaceae (Bombacoideae), Brownlowiaceae (Brownlowioideae), Byttneriaceae (Byttnerioideae), Durionaceae (Durionoideae), Helicteraceae (Helicteroideae), Malvaceae (Malvoideae), Pentapetaceae (Dombeyoideae), Sparrmanniaceae (Grewioideae), Sterculiaceae (Sterculioideae), and Tiliaceae (Tilioideae) (Cheek in Heywood et al., Fl. Pl. Fam. World. 201-202. 2007). For the present treatment, we prefer to retain the familiar, traditional four families, so as to maintain continuity with the treatments in FRPS, and to await a consensus on the two alternative strategies for dealing with the very widely accepted clades.
The traditional Malvaceae coincides exactly with one of the major clades. The only possible problem is the relationship with the Bombacaceae, which also has primarily 1-loculed anthers, and some authorities have suggested that the Bombacaceae should be included within the Malvaceae.
Members of the Malvaceae are important as fiber crops (particularly cotton, Gossypium). Young leaves of many species can be used as vegetables, and species of Abelmoschus and Hibiscus are grown as minor food crops. Many species have attractive flowers and an ever-increasing selection is grown as ornamentals. Several have been cultivated for a very long time, particularly species of Hibiscus, and some of these are not known in the wild.
Feng Kuo-mei. 1984. Malvaceae. In: Feng Kuo-mei, ed., Fl. Reipubl. Popularis Sin. 49(2): 1-102.
About 100 genera and ca. 1000 species: tropical and temperate regions of N and S Hemisphere; 19 genera (four introduced) and 81 species (24 endemic, 16 introduced) in China.
(Authors: Tang Ya (唐亚); Michael G. Gilbert, Laurence J. Dorr)