Annual or perennial, monoecious or dioecious, herbs, climbers, shrubs or trees. Leaves opposite or apparently whorled, simple, mostly entire, domatia often present; stipules interpetiolar, free or fused, sometimes leaf-like, often deciduous. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, usually dichasia or thyrses, rarely a simple or compound head, or flowers solitary. Flowers bisexual or unisexual, usually actinomorphic, sessile or pedicellate; bracts present; sepals usually 4 or 5, often rudimentary, or absent; corolla tubular, usually 4- or 5-lobed, sometimes 2-lipped; stamens as many as corolla-lobes and alternating with them, inserted on corolla-tube, anthers 2-celled, dehiscing by longitudinal slits, rarely by pores; ovary inferior, or rarely, semi-inferior, completely or incompletely 1–12-celled, ovules 1-many per cell, style simple or bifid, stigmas capitate or filiform. Fruit a capsule, drupe or schizocarp, dehiscent or indehiscent, often fused into a compound fruit; seeds 1-many, endosperm usually present.
About 650 genera with c. 7000 species, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions of the world; 42 genera and c. 200 species in Australia.
The family includes many species of economic importance, including ornamentals and sources of dyes and various medicinal or edible products (coffee is obtained from Coffea arabica L. and quinine from Cinchona L. species). The fruits of many species have been used as food by Australian aborigines.
The unification of Nertera and Leptostigma into Coprosma, as recommended by Heads (1996), has not been followed here.
Heads, M.J. (1996). Biogeography, taxonomy and evolution in the Pacific genus Coprosma (Rubiaceae), Candollea 51(2): 381-405.