Herbs, shrubs, or small trees, sometimes scandent; stems slightly to strongly nodose, the vascular bundles distinct and sometimes scattered. Leaves simple, entire, alternate or less frequently opposite or verticillate, mostly petiolate; stipules, when present, commonly adnate to the petiole. Flowers very small, bisexual in most American species, lacking a perianth, sessile in the axils of bracts of various forms, in more or less fleshy spikes, or, in the genus Ottonia (not present in our area) pedicellate in spike-like racemes; stamens commonly 2 to 5 (1—10), the anthers longitudinally dehiscent; pistil 1, 1-celled, the ovule basal; stigmas 1—5, sessile or on a style. Fruit a drupe with thin pericarp and small seed, the embryo embedded in endosperm. A large family of wide distribution throughout the warm parts of both hemispheres.