All Illicium spp. have explosive fruits, which is a unique character among the basal grade of angiosperms. Illicium fruits consist of several ventrally dehiscing follicles developing from conduplicate carpels, with a prominent, slightly postgenitally fused ventral slit. The closure of the ventral slit is also secured by two mirror-symmetrical massive longitudinal sclerenchymatous bands in the mesocarp along the edges and by turgor pressure. The pericarp differentiates into a fleshy (or coriaceous) peripheral zone (exocarp and mesocarp) with numerous ethereal-oil-containing cells and a sclerenchymatous (single-layered, palisade) inner zone (endocarp). Dehydration of the fleshy zone of the pericarp and partial compression of the epidermal sclereids with U-shaped wall thickenings lining the ventral suture are instrumental in explosive fruitlet dehiscence. Generally, the fruit structure of Illicium differs dramatically from those in other early diverging angiosperms. Gynoecium and fruit structure (and a probable early Cretaceous divergence from the Schisandra-Kadsura clade) provide evidence for treatment of Illicium as separate from Schisandraceae s.s. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 171, 640–654.