Quantitative and qualitative data are presented for woods of 30 species of woody Polygonaceae. Wood features that ally Polygonaceae with Plumbaginaceae include nonbordered perforation plates, storeying in narrow vessels and axial parenchyma, septate or nucleate fibres, vasicentric parenchyma, pith bundles that undergo secondary growth, silica bodies, and ability to form successive cambia. These features are consistent with pairing of Plumbaginaceae and Polygonaceae as sister families. Wood features that ally Polygonaceae with Rhabdodendraceae include nonbordered perforation plates, presence of vestured pits in vessels, presence of silica bodies and dark-staining compounds in ray cells, and ability to form successive cambia. Of the features listed above, nonbordered perforation plates and ability to form successive cambia may be symplesiomorphies basic to Caryophyllales sensu lato. The other features are more likely to be synapomorphies. Wood data thus support molecular cladograms that show the three families near the base of Caryophyllales s.l. Chambered crystals are common to three genera of the family and may indicate relationship. Ray histology suggests secondary woodiness in Antigonon, Atraphaxis, Bilderdykia, Dedeckera, Eriogonum, Harfordia, Muehlenbeckia, Polygonum, and Rumex. Other genera of the family show little or no evidence of secondary woodiness. Molecular data are needed to confirm this interpretation and to clarify the controversial systematic groupings within the family proposed by various authors. Vessel features of Polygonaceae (lumen diameter, element length, density, degree of grouping) show an extraordinary range from xeromorphy to mesomorphy, indicating that wood has played a key role in ecological and habital shifts within the family; the diversity in ecology and habit are correlated with quantitative wood data. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 141, 25−51.