hclust {stats}R Documentation

Hierarchical Clustering


Hierarchical cluster analysis on a set of dissimilarities and methods for analyzing it.


hclust(d, method = "complete", members=NULL)

## S3 method for class 'hclust':
plot(x, labels = NULL, hang = 0.1,
     axes = TRUE, frame.plot = FALSE, ann = TRUE,
     main = "Cluster Dendrogram",
     sub = NULL, xlab = NULL, ylab = "Height", ...)

plclust(tree, hang = 0.1, unit = FALSE, level = FALSE, hmin = 0,
        square = TRUE, labels = NULL, plot. = TRUE,
        axes = TRUE, frame.plot = FALSE, ann = TRUE,
        main = "", sub = NULL, xlab = NULL, ylab = "Height")


d a dissimilarity structure as produced by dist.
method the agglomeration method to be used. This should be (an unambiguous abbreviation of) one of "ward", "single", "complete", "average", "mcquitty", "median" or "centroid".
members NULL or a vector with length size of d. See the Details section.
x,tree an object of the type produced by hclust.
hang The fraction of the plot height by which labels should hang below the rest of the plot. A negative value will cause the labels to hang down from 0.
labels A character vector of labels for the leaves of the tree. By default the row names or row numbers of the original data are used. If labels=FALSE no labels at all are plotted.
axes, frame.plot, ann logical flags as in plot.default.
main, sub, xlab, ylab character strings for title. sub and xlab have a non-NULL default when there's a tree$call.
... Further graphical arguments.
unit logical. If true, the splits are plotted at equally-spaced heights rather than at the height in the object.
hmin numeric. All heights less than hmin are regarded as being hmin: this can be used to suppress detail at the bottom of the tree.
level, square, plot. as yet unimplemented arguments of plclust for S-PLUS compatibility.


This function performs a hierarchical cluster analysis using a set of dissimilarities for the n objects being clustered. Initially, each object is assigned to its own cluster and then the algorithm proceeds iteratively, at each stage joining the two most similar clusters, continuing until there is just a single cluster. At each stage distances between clusters are recomputed by the Lance–Williams dissimilarity update formula according to the particular clustering method being used.

A number of different clustering methods are provided. Ward's minimum variance method aims at finding compact, spherical clusters. The complete linkage method finds similar clusters. The single linkage method (which is closely related to the minimal spanning tree) adopts a ‘friends of friends’ clustering strategy. The other methods can be regarded as aiming for clusters with characteristics somewhere between the single and complete link methods. Note however, that methods "median" and "centroid" are not leading to a monotone distance measure, or equivalently the resulting dendrograms can have so called inversions (which are hard to interpret).

If members!=NULL, then d is taken to be a dissimilarity matrix between clusters instead of dissimilarities between singletons and members gives the number of observations per cluster. This way the hierarchical cluster algorithm can be “started in the middle of the dendrogram”, e.g., in order to reconstruct the part of the tree above a cut (see examples). Dissimilarities between clusters can be efficiently computed (i.e., without hclust itself) only for a limited number of distance/linkage combinations, the simplest one being squared Euclidean distance and centroid linkage. In this case the dissimilarities between the clusters are the squared Euclidean distances between cluster means.

In hierarchical cluster displays, a decision is needed at each merge to specify which subtree should go on the left and which on the right. Since, for n observations there are n-1 merges, there are 2^{(n-1)} possible orderings for the leaves in a cluster tree, or dendrogram. The algorithm used in hclust is to order the subtree so that the tighter cluster is on the left (the last, i.e., most recent, merge of the left subtree is at a lower value than the last merge of the right subtree). Single observations are the tightest clusters possible, and merges involving two observations place them in order by their observation sequence number.


An object of class hclust which describes the tree produced by the clustering process. The object is a list with components:

merge an n-1 by 2 matrix. Row i of merge describes the merging of clusters at step i of the clustering. If an element j in the row is negative, then observation -j was merged at this stage. If j is positive then the merge was with the cluster formed at the (earlier) stage j of the algorithm. Thus negative entries in merge indicate agglomerations of singletons, and positive entries indicate agglomerations of non-singletons.
height a set of n-1 non-decreasing real values. The clustering height: that is, the value of the criterion associated with the clustering method for the particular agglomeration.
order a vector giving the permutation of the original observations suitable for plotting, in the sense that a cluster plot using this ordering and matrix merge will not have crossings of the branches.
labels labels for each of the objects being clustered.
call the call which produced the result.
method the cluster method that has been used.
dist.method the distance that has been used to create d (only returned if the distance object has a "method" attribute).

There are print, plot and identify (see identify.hclust) methods and the rect.hclust() function for hclust objects. The plclust() function is basically the same as the plot method, plot.hclust, primarily for back compatibility with S-plus. Its extra arguments are not yet implemented.


The hclust function is based on Fortran code contributed to STATLIB by F. Murtagh.


Becker, R. A., Chambers, J. M. and Wilks, A. R. (1988) The New S Language. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole. (S version.)

Everitt, B. (1974). Cluster Analysis. London: Heinemann Educ. Books.

Hartigan, J. A. (1975). Clustering Algorithms. New York: Wiley.

Sneath, P. H. A. and R. R. Sokal (1973). Numerical Taxonomy. San Francisco: Freeman.

Anderberg, M. R. (1973). Cluster Analysis for Applications. Academic Press: New York.

Gordon, A. D. (1999). Classification. Second Edition. London: Chapman and Hall / CRC

Murtagh, F. (1985). “Multidimensional Clustering Algorithms”, in COMPSTAT Lectures 4. Wuerzburg: Physica-Verlag (for algorithmic details of algorithms used).

McQuitty, L.L. (1966). Similarity Analysis by Reciprocal Pairs for Discrete and Continuous Data. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 26, 825–831.

See Also

identify.hclust, rect.hclust, cutree, dendrogram, kmeans.

For the Lance–Williams formula and methods that apply it generally, see agnes from package cluster.


hc <- hclust(dist(USArrests), "ave")
plot(hc, hang = -1)

## Do the same with centroid clustering and squared Euclidean distance,
## cut the tree into ten clusters and reconstruct the upper part of the
## tree from the cluster centers.
hc <- hclust(dist(USArrests)^2, "cen")
memb <- cutree(hc, k = 10)
cent <- NULL
for(k in 1:10){
  cent <- rbind(cent, colMeans(USArrests[memb == k, , drop = FALSE]))
hc1 <- hclust(dist(cent)^2, method = "cen", members = table(memb))
opar <- par(mfrow = c(1, 2))
plot(hc,  labels = FALSE, hang = -1, main = "Original Tree")
plot(hc1, labels = FALSE, hang = -1, main = "Re-start from 10 clusters")

[Package stats version 2.1.0 Index]