Trees, shrubs, woody climbers or herbs. Stipules interpetiolar, often reduced to a stipular line, sometimes intrapetiolar. Leaves usually decussate, simple; margin more or less entire. Inflorescence cymose, sometimes reduced to a single flower. Flowers regular, usually fragrant (sometimes malodorous); usually bisexual, or if unisexual then plants dioecious; 5-merous or sometimes 4-merous; sepals united or free; petals united, usually whitish, cream-coloured to yellowish (in Australia), lobes valvate, imbricate or contorted in bud; stamens as many as petals, inserted on corolla-tube, anthers usually basifixed, dehiscing introrsely by longitudinal slits; ovary superior, rarely half-inferior, 2-locular, ovules 1-many, style usually 1 (2 in Mitrasacme, Phyllangium and Schizacme). Fruit capsular, berry-like or drupaceous; seeds 1–many.
About 22 genera and 350 species, primarily in tropical and subtropical areas but a few species extending into warm temperate regions; 7 genera and c. 75 species in Australia.