Phylogenetic relationships in Cornales were assessed using sequences rbcL and matK. Various combinations of outgroups were assessed for their suitability and the effects of long branches and outgroups on tree topology were examined using RASA 2.4 prior to conducting phylogenetic analyses. RASA identified several potentially problematic taxa having long branches in individual data sets that may have obscured phylogenetic signal, but when data sets were combined RASA no longer detected long branch problems. t(RASA) provides a more conservative measurement for phylogenetic signal than the PTP and skewness tests. The separate matK and rbcL sequence data sets were measured as the chloroplast DNA containing phylogenetic signal by RASA, but PTP and skewness tests suggested the reverse. Nonetheless, the matK and rbcL sequence data sets suggested relationships within Cornales largely congruent with those suggested by the combined matK-rbcL sequence data set that contains significant phylogenetic signal as measured by tRASA, PTP, and skewness tests. Our analyses also showed that a taxon having a long branch on the tree may not be identified as a "long-branched" taxon by RASA. The long branches identified by RASA had little effect on the arrangement of other taxa in the tree, but the placements of the long-branched taxa themselves were often problematic. Removing the long-branched taxa from analyses generally increased bootstrap support, often substantially. Use of non-optimal outgroups (as identified by RASA) decreased phylogenetic resolution in parsimony analyses and suggested different relationships in maximum likelihood analyses, although usually weakly supported clades (less than 50% support) were impacted. Our results do not recommend using tRASA as a sole criterion to discard data or taxa in phylogenetic analyses, but tRASA and the taxon variance ratio obtained from RASA may be useful as a guide for improved phylogenetic analyses. Results of parsimony and ML analyses of the sequence data using optimal outgroups suggested by RASA revealed four major clades within Cornales: (1) Curtisia-Grubbia, (2) Cornus-Alangium, (3) Nyssa-Camptotheca-Davidia-Mastixia-Diplopanax, and (4) Hydrangeaceae-Loasaceae, with clades (2) and (3) forming a monophyletic group sister to clade (4) and clade (1) sister to the remainder of Cornales. However, there was not strong bootstrap support for relationships among the major clades. The placement of Hydrostachys could not be reliably determined, although most analyses place the genus within Hydrangeaceae; ML analyses, for example, placed the genus as the sister of Hydrangeeae. Our results supported a Cornales including the systematically problematic Hydrostachys, a Cornaceae consisting of Cornus and Alangium, a Nyssaceae consisting of Nyssa and Camptotheca, a monogeneric Davidiaceae, a Mastixiaceae consisting of Mastixia and Diplopanax, and an expanded Grubbiaceae consisting of Grubbia and Curtisia, and two larger families, Hydrangeaceae and Loasaceae. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.