Within the rosid order Malpighiales, Rhizophoraceae and Erythroxylaceae (1) are strongly supported as sisters in molecular phylogenetic studies and possibly form a clade with either Ctenolophonaceae (2) or with Linaceae, Irvingiaceae and Caryocaraceae (less well supported) (3). In order to assess the validity of these relationships from a floral structural point of view, these families are comparatively studied for the first time in terms of their floral morphology, anatomy and histology. Overall floral structure reflects the molecular results quite well and Rhizophoraceae and Erythroxylaceae are well supported as closely related. Ctenolophonaceae share some unusual floral features (potential synapomorphies) with Rhizophoraceae and Erythroxylaceae. In contrast, Linaceae, Irvingiaceae and Caryocaraceae are not clearly supported as a clade, or as closely related to Rhizophoraceae and Erythroxylaceae, as their shared features are probably mainly symplesiomorphies at the level of Malpighiales or a (still undefined) larger subclade of Malpighales, rather than synapomorphies. Rhizophoraceae and Erythroxylaceae share (among other features) conduplicate petals enwrapping stamens in bud, antepetalous stamens longer than antesepalous ones, a nectariferous androecial tube with attachment of the two stamen whorls at different positions: one whorl on the rim, the other below the rim of the tube, the ovary shortly and abruptly dorsally bulged and the presence of a layer of idioblasts (laticifers?) in the sepals and ovaries. Ctenolophonaceae share with Rhizophoraceae and/or Erythroxylaceae (among other features) sepals with less than three vascular traces, a short androgynophore, an ovary septum thin and severed or completely disintegrating during development, leading to a developmentally secondarily unilocular ovary, a zigzag-shaped micropyle and seeds with an aril. Special features occurring in families of all three groupings studied here are, for example, synsepaly, petals not retarded and thus forming protective organs in floral bud, petals postgenitally fused or hooked together in bud, androecial tube and petals fusing above floral base, androecial corona, apocarpous unifacial styles, nucellus thin and long, early disintegrating (before embryo sac is mature), and nectaries on the androecial tube. Some of these features may be synapomorphies for the entire group, if it forms a supported clade in future molecular studies, or for subgroups thereof. Others may be plesiomorphies, as they also occur in other Malpighiales or also in Celastrales or Oxalidales (COM clade). The occurrence of these features within the COM clade is also discussed. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 166, 331–416.