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Star anise, yellow anise-tree

Scientific name:
Illicium parviflorum

Illicium parviflorum is a rare plant, endemic to (only native to) central Florida. It grows along stream banks and drainage areas of the upper St. Johns River in Florida (White & Thien 1985). Today, this shrub is also grown commercially for landscaping. The common name, star anise, refers to its star-shaped fruit and distinct aroma.  The leaves, twigs and and roots smell similar to anise, licorice, sassafras, or root beer. This is not the species commonly used as a spice.

Illicium parviflorum is an evergreen shrub with yellow flowers and leathery leaves.  Solitary flowers hang like bells and have 6 to 12 yellow tepals (undifferentiated sepals and petals) (Chafin 2000).  Flowers are bisexual, meaning that they have both male and female reproductive parts.  The female reproductive organs are packed tightly in a central ball called a gynoecium.  Numerous male reproductive organs (call stamens) surround the gynoecium in several whorled rings.  Insects pollinate these flowers (White & Thien 1985) and the resulting fruit is a woody star-like aggregate of follicles.  Inside each follicle, there is a single elliptical seed.

Illicium parviflorum’s closest living relatives are found only in the eastern Americas/Caribbean and southeast Asia.  This odd intercontinental disjunction occurs in many ancient plant lineages (See also yellow poplar).  This phenomenon excites plant systematists, who are botanists that study relationships among plant species to reveal the patterns and processes of their evolution. Knowledge about the relationships among among early plant lineages gives us clues as to what the first flower might have looked like. Recently, plant geneticists discovered a group of genes that control floral development.  Similarities and differences among these genes are now investigated in hopes of revealing mechanisms responsible for floral diversity and the evolutionary history of flowers. (Frohlich, & Meyerowitz 1997)

Author: Heather Fara, University of Florida. Send comments or corrections


illicium map

Map: Red area indicates the native range of Illicium parviflorum, Central Florida. This is the only place in the world that I. parviflorum is found natively today. Map created by Heather Fara, University of Florida.

illicium flowerillicium seeds

Photos: (a) Flower, taken by Ashley Morris, University of Florida . (b) Immature fruit detail, taken by David Lemke, Texas A&M Bioinformatics Working Group.


Chafin et al. 2000. Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

eflora. (2003) Illiciaceae (de Candolle) A. C. Smith. Flora of North America Vol 3. www.efloras.org. Nov 23, 2005

eflora (2003) llicium parviflorum. Flora of North America Vol 3. www.efloras.org.Nov 23, 2005.

Frohlich, M. W. & Meyerowitz, E. M. 1997, The search for flower homeotic gene homologs in basal angiosperms and Gnetales: A potential new source of data on the evolutionary origin of flowers. International Journal of Plant Sciences. 158 (6): 131-142

White, D.A. & Thien, L.B. 1985. The pollination of Illicium parviflorum Illiciaceae Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society. 101 (1): 15-18.

University of FloridaPenn StateCornell UniversitySupported by NSF