The xylem and phloem of 88 Caryophyllaceae from subtropical and temperate regions mainly in Western Europe and the Canary Islands are described and analysed. They are compared with their taxonomic classification, and assigned to their ecological range. The xylem of different life forms (herbaceous plants, dwarf shrubs and shrubs) consists mainly of parenchyma and small vessels that are 20-50 mu m in diameter in earlywood. They have simple perforations and pits are pseudosclariform and scalariform. The axial parenchyma is mostly pervasive or paratracheal, and the ray cells are exclusively upright or square. The anatomy of the subfamily Alsinoideae is homogeneous and characterised by the absence of libriform fibres, large rays, crystal druses and sclereids in the cortex. The subfamily Caryophylloideae is less homogeneous and mainly characterised by the presence of crystal druses on the xylem and phloem, as well as the presence of intra-annual fibre bands. The subfamily Paronychioideae is heterogeneous; included phloem is most characteristic. Ecological trends are clearly expressed by the age of plants and the average annual radial growth rates. Plants tend to grow older and slower at higher altitudes. The presence of intra-annual fibre bands in the xylem is characteristic of Caryophylloideae at lower altitudes. The study suggests that taxonomic and ecological classifications and large-scale ecological trend studies must be based on large and homogeneous datasets and well-defined anatomical features.