Herbs, perennial, shrubs, or subshrubs [trees], monoecious [dioecious or flowers bisexual], terrestrial, unarmed, clonal or not. Stems erect and ascending. Leaves persistent, opposite, subopposite, or alternate, simple; stipules absent; petiolate [sessile]; blade leathery, margins entire or dentate. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, spikes, racemes, or capitate clusters; bracts and/or bracteoles often present, subtending flowers. Flowers unisexual [bisexual], staminate and pistillate on same plant, sessile or pedicellate; perianth and androecium hypogynous; tepals 2, 4, 5, or 6, distinct; petals absent. Staminate flowers: stamens 4 , antitepalous, free, distinct; filaments thickened; anthers conspicuous, often red; pistillode present or absent. Pistillate flowers: pistils [1 or] 2- or 3(or 4)-carpellate, basally connate, apically distinct and grading into styles; ovary superior, locules 1 or 2 times carpels; placentation axile; styles equal to number of carpels, subulate, divergent to divaricate, often recurved in fruit, stigmatic along inner surface; interstylar nectaries present or absent; ovules 1 or 2 per locule, pendulous, anatropous, bitegmic, crassinucellate. Fruits capsules or berries, circumscissile near base or loculicidally dehiscent and forcibly ejecting seeds. Seeds brown or black, shiny, carunculate or not; endosperm fleshy.
North America, Mexico, West Indies, Central America, n South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, nearly worldwide.
Genera 7, species ca. 120 (2 genera, 3 species in the flora).