Annual or perennial herbs or shrubs. Leaves alternate, usually palmately divided, sometimes simple; stipules usually present. Inflorescence a raceme or corymb, flowers sometimes solitary. Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic or slightly zygomorphic; sepals 4; petals 4; stamens 6–32, filaments free or basally fused to gynophore, nectaries sometimes associated with stamens; ovary superior, 1-carpellate (rarely with 2 carpels), bilocular, ovules 1–many per locule; style 1, stigma capitate; placentation parietal. Fruit usually a pedicellate capsule, elongate, dehiscent by lateral valves.
25 genera and c. 270 species, almost cosmopolitan, in tropical and temperate regions; 5 genera and c. 20 species (6 naturalised) in Australia.
Cleomaceae is sometimes included in Capparaceae.