A phylogenetic tree can be represented as a comma-bracket string by the Newick format (see the Newick Standard, or this site for syntax details; here is an online tree visualizer). A simple Newick string example is resolved as follows:


enter image description here

Note, that a (b1, b2, ...)node represents a tree rooted at node, with branches in the parenthesis; any node can have a lable l and a distance d to its parent in the form l:d; multiple trees can be separated by a ;. The format is rather flexible, as is apparent from the wiki. Both the label and the distance can be omitted, hence ((,),,); is a valid tree.

  • How can one parse a Newick tree to a Mathematica-usable object? (The other way around was already covered.)
  • How to convert a tree to a Graph object?
  • How to work with trees? E.g. how to measure distances of leafs/nodes?
  • How to display a tree in standard cladogram format (orthogonal edges, correct branching coordinates, vertex and edge labels, etc.)?
  • What is the relationship between a phylogenetic tree, a TreeGraph, a Dendrogram, and a DendrogramPlot of the "HierarchicalClustering`" package?

1 Answer 1


Download the Phylogenetics` package here: Phylogenetics on GitHub (direct link to latest release: source zip), available on PackageData.net here. Documentation: notebook / pdf / dark themed pdf (for the eyestrained).

Version 1.1.0. is out (2017 01. 31.)

  • added: CommonAncestor, DivergenceTime, AncestorIndex, TreeDistanceMatrix, TreeTop, $PhylogeneticsVersionNumber.
  • fixed: Usage message corrections.
  • feature: Straight Cladogram edges, branching according to angle.
  • modified: LeafQ and NodeQ now can be applied to a single argument representing a node association.
  • renamed: SubnodeIndex to DescendantIndex.
  • modified: Code was made compatible down to Mathematica 10.0. No compatibility before that due to heavy usage of associations.

I had to deal with some phylogenetic trees in papers that did not publish exact data for all nodes (e.g. see this paper). I ended up coding a full package to handle Newick and other phylogenetic trees. Hope it could save some time for others.

The Phylogenetics` package can:

  • parse a Newick tree string to a Mathematica-usable Tree object and write a Tree object to a Newick string;
  • parse a Cluster object of the HierarchicalClustering` package to a Tree and convert a Tree to Cluster representation;
  • test properties of Tree objects;
  • extract vertices, edges, internal nodes, leafs, sub- and supertrees of Tree objects;
  • directly calculate various properties of Tree objects like paths and distances between vertices;
  • convert a Tree object to Graph, and a tree Graph to Tree; any tree graph (TreeGraph, ClusteringTree, etc.) for which TreeGraphQ returns True can be converted to Tree;
  • convert a Tree object or a tree Graph object to Cladogram graph,
  • provide some example trees in Newick and Cluster format.

The Tree representation follows closely the Newick format, but is a full representation where nothing is omitted. A tree is technically a directed, acyclic graph with an explicit metric defined along the branching dimension (instead of between leaf nodes as with e.g. Dendrogram). Each vertex is represented as an association of basic properties minimally required to describe a tree:

  • "Name" specifies the unique name of the vertex, just like in Graph; can be any expression.
  • "Label" specifies the label of the vertex that might appear when the tree is displayed as a graph; can be any expression.
  • "BranchLength" specifies the numerical distance of the vertex to its parent vertex.
  • "Type" specifies the type of the vertex, either as "Node" for internal nodes or "Leaf" for terminal nodes.

Nodes are formatted by default to appear simplified as grey boxes not to increase clutter; the tree structure is best visible in this form.

The package lives on GitHub (link in first line above), and I will try to maintain and develop it as my time allows. Full documentation and examples are in the Phylogenetics documentation.nb notebook. Please report issues and bugs here. Collaborations are very welcome!


Load the package and convert a Newick string to a Tree.


tree = NewickToTree["(A:0.1,B:0.2,((G:.1,H:0.2,I:0.3)C:0.3,D:0.4):0.5)F;"]

Mathematica graphics

TreeToGraph[tree, ImageSize -> Small]

Mathematica graphics

There are many example trees provided through PhylogeneticData. Cladogram offers visualization specific for cladistics.

tree = NewickToTree[PhylogeneticData["ExampleNewick"]];
Cladogram[tree, EdgeLabels -> Automatic, Frame -> True, 
 EdgeLabelStyle -> Orange, LayerSizeFunction -> (1 # &), 
 ImageSize -> Medium, VertexSize -> 0.01]

Mathematica graphics

Note, that unnamed nodes are automatically assigned a unique index to avoid name collision. Vertices, edges, leafs, internal nodes, subtrees and supertrees can be extracted easily:

tree = NewickToTree["(A:0.1,B:0.2,((G:.1,H:0.2,I:0.3)C:0.3,D:0.4)E:0.5)F;"]
Subtree[tree, "C"]
Supertree[tree, {"H", "D"}]

Mathematica graphics

Cladogram[tree, GraphHighlight -> Subtree[tree, #], PlotLabel -> #, 
   VertexLabels -> "Name"] & /@ {"F", "E", "C", "A"}

Mathematica graphics

Graphs can be converted directly to cladograms:

graphs = {KaryTree[10, ImageSize -> Tiny], 
  CompleteKaryTree[3, 3, ImageSize -> Tiny], 
  StarGraph[6, ImageSize -> Tiny], 
  TreeGraph[{1 -> 2, 1 -> 3, 1 -> 4}, ImageSize -> Tiny]}
Cladogram[#, Orientation -> Top, ImageSize -> Tiny] & /@ graphs

Mathematica graphics

Hierarchical clusters can be also converted, with similarity values indicating branching distance.

cluster = PhylogeneticData["ExampleCluster1"]
tree = ClusterToTree[cluster]

Mathematica graphics

  GraphLayout -> {"LayeredEmbedding", Orientation -> Top}],
 Cladogram[tree, Orientation -> Top, ImageSize -> Small, 
  ImagePadding -> 10],
 DendrogramPlot[cluster, Orientation -> Top, LeafLabels -> (# &)]}

Mathematica graphics

Extract paths and measure distances:

tree = NewickToTree["(A:0.1,B:0.2,((G:.1,H:0.2,I:0.3)C:0.3,D:0.4)E:0.5)F;"];
list = {{"I", "F"}, {"F", "I"}, {"H", "H"},{"H", "B"}};
path = TreePath[tree, #] & /@ list;
dist = TreeDistance[tree, #] & /@ list;

 Cladogram[tree, GraphHighlight -> #1, ImageSize -> Small, 
   PlotLabel -> Row@{#1, ": ", #2}, VertexLabels -> "Name"] &, {path, 

Mathematica graphics

A serious phylogenetic tree (from Parfrey et al. 2011):

 ImageSize -> 500, ImagePadding -> {{1, 100}, {1, 1}}, 
 LayerSizeFunction -> (1/5 # &), VertexSize -> None, 
 VertexLabelStyle -> Directive[5, Italic], ImageSize -> Medium]

Mathematica graphics

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You can also post on packagedata.net $\endgroup$
    – Szabolcs
    Sep 16, 2016 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ Posted on packagedata.net, here. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2016 at 8:54
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Today I discovered that if I have a tree graph representing hierarchical clustering, where the VertexWeight of each node is the "distance"/"dissimilarity" between subtrees, it can be plotted as a dendrogram using Dendrogram. No need for DendrogramPlot from HierarchicalClustering. The key missing information was the vertex weights of nodes, to represent "dissimilarities". Up til now I though that it wasn't possible to use Dendrogram to do the same we did with DendrogramPlot. $\endgroup$
    – Szabolcs
    Oct 3, 2016 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ Be aware that this is now partly obsolete as v12.3 has introduced the new system function Tree that similarly to PhylogeneticsTree`. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2021 at 21:37

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