The tribe Spermacoceae is essentially a herbaceous Rubiaceae lineage, except for some species that can be described as 'woody' herbs, small shrubs to treelets, or lianas. Its sister tribe Knoxieae contains a large number of herbaceous taxa, but the number of woody taxa is higher compared to Spermacoceae. The occurrence of herbaceous and woody species within the same group raises the question whether the woody taxa are derived from herbaceous taxa (i.e. secondary woodiness), or whether woodiness represents the ancestral state (i.e. primary woodiness). Microscopic observations of wood anatomy are combined with an independent molecular phylogeny to answer this question.