Description from Flora of China
Herbs annual or perennial, rarely subshrubs or shrubs. Stems and branches usually swollen at nodes. Leaves opposite, decussate, rarely alternate or verticillate, simple, entire, usually connate at base; stipules scarious, bristly, or often absent. Inflorescence of cymes or cymose panicles, rarely flowers solitary or few in racemes, capitula, pseudoverticillasters, or umbels. Flowers actinomorphic, bisexual, rarely unisexual, occasionally cleistogamous. Sepals (4 or)5, free, imbricate, or connate into a tube, leaflike or scarious, persistent, sometimes bracteate below calyx. Petals (4 or)5, rarely absent, free, often comprising claw and limb; limb entire or split, usually with coronal scales at juncture of claw and limb. Stamens (2--)5--10, in 1 or 2 series. Pistil 1; carpels 2--5, united into a compound ovary. Ovary superior, 1-loculed or basally imperfectly 2--5-loculed. Gynophore present or absent. Placentation free, central, rarely basal; ovules (1 or) few or numerous, campylotropous. Styles (1 or)2--5, sometimes united at base. Fruit usually a capsule, with pericarp crustaceous, scarious, or papery, dehiscing by teeth or valves 1 or 2 × as many as styles, rarely berrylike with irregular dehiscence or an achene. Seeds 1 to numerous, reniform, ovoid, or rarely dorsiventrally compressed, abaxially grooved, blunt, or sharply pointed, rarely fimbriate-pectinate; testa granular, striate or tuberculate, rarely smooth or spongy; embryo strongly curved and surrounding perisperm or straight but eccentric; perisperm mealy.
Arenaria, Silene, and Stellaria contain over half the species in the family in China. They are mostly concentrated in the Qinghai-Xizang plateau, and are especially rich from the Hengduan Mountains to the Himalayas.
The main uses of this family are medicinal and ornamental. Dianthus superbus, Pseudostellaria heterophylla, Stellaria dichotoma var. lanceolata, and Vaccaria hispanica are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Some species of Arenaria, Dianthus, Gypsophila, Psammosilene, and Silene are used as medicinal herbs among the people or are habitually used in local Chinese medicine. Many species of Dianthus, Gypsophila, Lychnis, Saponaria, and Silene are grown as ornamentals. Atocion armeria (Linnaeus) Rafinesque ( Silene armeria Linnaeus), native to Russia and Europe, is also cultivated in China. It differs from Silene in having a corymbose inflorescence and obscure calyx veins.
Wu Cheng-yih, Ke Ping, Zhou Li-hua, Tang Chang-lin & Lu De-quan. 1996. Caryophyllaceae. In: Tang Chang-lin, ed., Fl. Reipubl. Popularis Sin. 26: 47–449.
Between 75 and 80 genera and ca. 2000 species: widespread but mainly of temperate or warm-temperate occurrence in the N hemisphere, with principal centers of distribution in the Mediterranean region and W Asia to W China and the Himalayas, fewer species in Africa S of the Sahara, America, and Oceania; 30 genera (two endemic) and 390 species (193 endemic) in China.
(Authors: Lu Dequan; Michael G. Gilbert , Magnus Lidén , John McNeill , John K. Morton , Bengt Oxelman , Richard K. Rabeler , Mats Thulin, Nicholas J. Turland , Warren L. Wagner)