Perennial, glabrous, herbaceous vines with slender or stout and fleshy stems, often with a rhizome or tuberous roots. Leaves alternate, entire, often fleshy, sessile or petiolate. Stipules wanting. Inflorescence consisting of spikes, panicles or clusters, the flowers sessile or short-pedicellate. Bracts small; bracteoles 2 or 4, forming a calyx-like receptacle, sometimes accrescent; the upper pair often tepaloid. Flowers actinomorphic, hermaphrodite or perhaps sometimes unisexual. Tepals 5, connate at the base in a shorter or longer tube, imbricate. Stamens 5, epitepalous; anthers 4-celled, dorsifixed, with longitudinal dehiscence. Ovary superior, unilocular; styles 3, free or united; stigmas 3 or 1. Ovule 1, basal, campylotropous. Fruit dry or baccate, surrounded and sometimes winged by the expanded, persistent perianth. Seeds globular. Embryo spirally twisted or semi-circular to horseshoe-shaped. Endosperm copious; perisperm sparse. About 20 species in 4 genera, almost confined to the tropics of the New World; some species of Basella in Africa and Madagascar.