Perennial, rarely annual, herbs or dwarf shrubs. Leaves usually in a basal rosette, sometimes withered at time of flowering. Inflorescence a corymbose panicle, with terminal, secund spikes, sometimes with some sterile branches; spikes of 1–5-flowered spikelets, each subtended by 3 bracts, the inner and outer inserted away from the branch, the middle bract inserted toward the branch and often inconspicuous. Calyx funnel-shaped, the scarious lobes usually coloured; petals largely fused or fused shortly at base only, soon withering; stamens attached to base of petals; styles 5, free or united toward base. Fruit a circumsciss or irregularly dehiscent capsule.
A taxonomically complex genus of c. 300 species, almost cosmopolitan, but particularly in coastal areas of southern Europe; 9 species in Australia, 2 native.