Often deciduous shrubs with yellowish wood. Leaves alternate, ± clustered on short shoots, often subtended by simple or palmately divided spines (which are modified leaves of long shoots). Inflorescence a raceme, sometimes contracted and umbel-like. Sepals usually 6, in 2 whorls; petals 6–12 in 2 or 3 whorls, the inner 6 with basal nectaries; stamens 6, opposite the nectariferous petals. Fruit a 2-seeded berry.
About 500 species from Europe, northern Africa, southern Asia and America.