In the genus Gunnera, the species of subgenus Panke are unique in having large, triangular scales between the leaves on the rhizomes. The morphological significance of these scales has been extensively debated in the past. They have been interpreted as stipules, ligules, or cataphylls, with attempts made to identify homologous structures in representatives of the other subgenera. In the stoloniferous subgenus Misandra, the shoot apex is covered by a hoodlike structure, usually termed ochrea, generally considered homologous to the scales in Panke. Efforts to find similar structures in the remaining subgenera were unsuccessful. Due to the lack of a phylogenetic hypothesis, the homology of the scales has remained unresolved. In this study, the shoot apices of species from all subgenera were examined by light and scanning electron microscopy and the results interpreted in a phylogenetic context. The tip of the stolons in subgenera Pseudogunnera and Milligania carries two opposite cataphylls at the base of the new shoot. These are homologous to the ochrea in Misandra which is in turn homologous to the scales in Panke; the latter are thus neither stipules nor ligules but cataphylls. The stems of subgenera Ostenigunnera and Gunnera have no similar structures. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 142, 301−308.