Trees, shrubs, or herbs, rarely climbers, lacking latex, monoecious or dioecious. Leaves usually alternate (rarely opposite), simple (rarely compound or absent); stipules present, sometimes caducous. Inflorescences axillary, often of a single flower, or of terminal cymes or corymbs. Flowers regular, usually unisexual; sepals 3–8, free; petals as many as sepals or fewer, sometimes absent. Male flowers with 3–10(–many) stamens, free or fused to some extent; anthers 2-celled, dehiscing by longitudinal slits or sometimes by apical pores; rudimentary ovary sometimes present. Female flowers with ovary superior, usually 3-(but up to 15-)celled, ovules 2 per cell, but generally only 1 developing, styles usually 3, free or variously united, entire, 2-lobed, sometimes many-lobed; staminodes sometimes present; nectary disc sometimes present below ovary. Fruit usually a schizocarp, rarely a berry or drupe.
About 60 genera and over 2000 species in tropical and temperate areas of the world, absent from higher latitudes in N. Hemisphere; 16 genera in Australia.
Previously included within the Euphorbiaceae from which it may be distinguished by having 2 ovules per locule of the ovary, and in the absence of latex from all structures.