Magnoliids, Coontails, and Water Lilies

Some General Characteristics

Magnoliids, coontails, and water liles are sometimes referred to as "basal angiosperms" because they are clades of angiosperms that are rooted near the base of the angiosperm clade. "Basal angiosperms" are defined differently depending on the authority. Here we define the basal angiosperms as consisting of all angiosperms other than monocots and dicots. However, it should be noted that some authorities also consider monocots to be basal angiosperms (Solstis and Solstis 2004), other authorities define the basal angiosperms as including only the ANITA grade (Amborellaceae, Hydatellaceae, Cabombaceae, Nymphaeaceae, Austrobaileyaceae, Trimeniaceae, Schisandraceae, and Illiciaceae) (Thien et al. 2009). Regardless of how they are defined, collectively the basal angiosperms do not form a clade.

Although the magnoliids, coontails and water lilies form separate clades, they share some general characteristics, as summarized below from Endress (2010) and Thien et al. (2009):

  • In flowers that have both male and female parts (i.e., bisexual flowers), the female parts typically mature prior to the male parts, so that the male and female parts tend to be functional at different times, preventing self-pollination. In other groups of angiosperms that have male and female flower parts developing at different times, it is more common for the male parts to develop first.
  • Some taxa have specialized structures or other adaptations to ensure that the male and female flower parts are not active at the same time.
  • Flowers are commonly pollinated by beetles, flies and thrips. Bees are also important pollinators in some species of Nymphaceae, and wind pollination is known to occur in Brasenia (Cabombaceae).
  • The flowers produce little or no nectar. Pollinators benefit by consuming pollen or flower parts and/or by using flowers for shelter or brood sites. In some cases, insects may be duped into pollinating flowers due to bright colors, odors, and/or heat generated by flowers.

Five families of magnoliids occur in New England: Magnoliaceae, Aristolochiaceae, Lauraceae, Calycanthaceae, and Saururaceae. These taxa occur in upland or wetland areas.

Coontails and water lilies consist entirely of aquatic species. The coontails (Ceratophyllaceae) comprise a single genus, Ceratophyllum, of which there are two species in New England: C. demersum and C. echinatum. Two families of water lilies are found in New England: Nymphaeaceae and Cabombaceae.

Magnoliids, Coontails, and Water Lilies found in New England

Tulip Tree

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).


Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum).


Water Lily

White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata).


Water Lilies


Endress, P.K. 2010. The evolution of flora biology in basal angiosperms. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 365: 411-421.

Haines, A. 2011. New England Wildflower Society's Flora Novae Angliae. A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 973 pages.

Soltis, P.S. and D.E. Soltis. 2004. The origin and diversification of angiosperms. Am Journal of Botany. 91(10): 1614-1626.

Thien, L.B., P. Bernhardt, M.S. Devall, Z. Chen, Y. Luo, J. Fan, L. Yuan, and J.H. Williams. 2009. Pollination biology of basal angiosperms (ANITA grade). Am. J. Botany. 96(1):166-182.

Last edited: 29 Jan. 2018