The wood anatomy of 16 of the 37 genera within the epacrids (Styphelioideae, Ericaceae s.l.) is investigated by light and scanning electron microscopy. Several features in the secondary xylem occur consistently at the tribal level: arrangement of vessel-ray pits, distribution of axial parenchyma, ray width, and the presence and location of crystals. The primitive nature of Prionoteae and Archerieae is supported by the presence of scalariform perforation plates with many bars and scalariform to opposite vessel pitting. The wood structure of Oligarrheneae is similar to that of Styphelieae, but the very narrow vessel elements, exclusively uniseriate rays and the lack of prismatic crystals in Oligarrheneae distinguish these two tribes. The secondary xylem of Monotoca tamariscina indicates that it does not fit in Styphelieae; a position within Oligarrheneae is possible. Like most Cosmelieae, all Richeeae are characterized by exclusively scalariform perforation plates with many bars, a very high vessel density and paratracheal parenchyma, although they clearly differ in ray width (exclusively uniseriate rays in Cosmelieae vs. uniseriate and wide multiseriate rays in Richeeae). Several wood anatomical features confirm the inclusion of epacrids in Ericaceae s.l. Furthermore, there are significant ecological implications. The small vessel diameter and high vessel frequency in many epacrids are indicative of a high conductive safety to avoid embolism caused by freeze-thaw cycles, while the replacement of scalariform by simple vessel perforation plates and an increase in vessel diameter would suggest an increased conductive efficiency, which is especially found in mesic temperate or tropical Styphelieae. (C) 2003 Annals of Botany Company.