Annual or perennial herbs, shrubs or small trees, rarely woody climbers, often with glandular, branched or stellate hairs; prickles present or absent. Leaves alternate, sometimes subopposite, simple to compound; stipules absent. Inflorescences terminal, pseudo-axillary or leaf-opposed paniculate or subumbellate cymes, sometimes reduced to a single flower. Flowers regular or zygomorphic, bisexual or rarely unisexual; calyx tubular to campanulate, usually 5-lobed (rarely 3–9-lobed), persistent, sometimes enlarging in fruit; corolla campanulate, tubular, cup-shaped, funnel-shaped or salver-shaped, usually 5-lobed (rarely 3–9-lobed), lobes valvate, plicate, imbricate or volutive in bud; stamens usually 4 or 5 (rarely 1, 2, 3 or 8), equal or unequal in length, inserted in corolla-tube, alternating with corolla-lobes, anthers 1- or 2-celled, sometimes cohering, dehiscing by longitudinal slits or terminal pores; ovary superior, 2–5-celled, often on a hypogynous disc, ovules numerous or sometimes few per cell, placentation axile, style simple, stigma capitate or shortly 2-lobed. Fruit a fleshy or sometimes dry berry or a capsule, usually 2-celled; seeds usually many, often flattened.
About 90 genera with more than 2600 species, almost cosmopolitan but mainly in tropical and temperate regions; 23 genera in Australia.
The family contains many species that are important in agriculture and horticulture, and several of these are grown in Victoria, sometimes spreading weakly from farms or gardens but usually not persisting for more than a season or two. The most commonly grown food species in Victoria are Capsicum annuum L. (Sweet and Chili Peppers), Lycopersicon esculentum Miller (Tomato), Solanum tuberosum L. (Potato), Solanum melongena L. (Eggplant) and, to a lesser extent, Solanum betaceum Cav. (syn. Cyphomandra betacea (Cav.) Sendtner) (Tamarillo or Tree Tomato). Commonly grown ornamentals include species of Browallia, Brugmansia, Brunfelsia, Cestrum, Nicotiana, Nierembergia, Petunia, Solandra, Solanum and Streptosolen. Several genera contain species that are poisonous or have medicinal or narcotic properties. These include Atropa belladonna L. (Deadly Nightshade), Datura spp. (Thornapples), Hyoscyamus niger L. (Common Henbane) and Nicotiana spp. (Tobacco). Alkaloids from species of Duboisia are used by Australian aborigines as an animal poison as well as a narcotic.
Hyoscyamus albus L. (white Henbane) and H. niger L. (Common Henbane) are known in Victoria from a few early records, but neither of these European species appear to have persisted in Victoria. Hyoscyamus albus is an annual, biennial or perennial herb to 50 cm high with downy-velvety foliage, pedicellate lower flowers, calyx tubes 10–15 mm long with short triangular teeth, and a narrow-limbed, non-veined corolla. Hyoscyamus niger is similar to H. albus but differs in its less hairy foliage, subsessile flowers, shorter calyx-tubes with longer, narrower teeth and broad-limbed, reticulately veined corolla.