Herbs or shrubs, erect, prostrate or scandent. Leaves decussate or ternate, simple, crenate, often rugose. Inflorescence axillary, pedunculate, densely many-flowered in heads or cylindric spikes. Flowers sessile, solitary in axil of a bract; calyx tubular, truncate and entire or sinuately toothed, usually hidden by subtending bract; corolla-tube straight or sometimes curved, lobes 4 or 5, equal, spreading; stamens in 2 unequal pairs, included in corolla-tube; ovary 2-locular with 1 ovule per locule. Fruit a fleshy drupe, 2-seeded, often splitting into two 1-seeded pyrenes, sometimes 1 pyrene aborting.
About 150 species native to tropical and subtropical America, and tropical Asia and Africa; 3 species naturalized in Australia.