Perennial or more usually biennial (rarely annual) herbs; forming a basal rosette in first year and an erect stout flowering stem in the second year. Leaves alternate, rosetted at base, scattered and becoming smaller up stem. Flowers many in terminal racemes, spikes or panicles; bracteoles absent or sometimes present. Sepals 5, free, equal or slightly unequal, free or fused at the very base; corolla rotate, with 5 widely spreading nearly equal lobes; stamens 5, or 4 with or without a staminode, upper 2 or 3 with anthers reniform and transversely inserted, the lower pair similar or with elongated anthers decurrent along the often villous filament, anthers 1-locular. Capsule ovoid to globose, septicidal; seeds numerous.
About 350 species, in temperate Europe and Asia; 5 species naturalised in Australia.