Small trees, shrubs or twining woody plants, rarely herbs; branches terete. Glands present in various parts. Indumentum consisting of simple hairs, or in Viburnum sometimes lepidote; glandular hairs mostly present. Stems often pithy. Leaves decussate, simple or deeply divided (Sambucus), sometimes provided with pitted or cup-shaped glands exuding resin. Stipules absent or very small. Flowers ♀, actinomorphic or zygomorphic, mostly cymosely arranged, 4—5-merous; outer flowers in an inflorescence sometimes differing from the normal ones, rarely ( Sambucus p.p.) some fls aborted into extra-floral nectaries. Calyx adnate to the ovary, (4—)5-fid or -toothed, mostly constricted below the limb; sepals often enlarged in fruit. Corolla epigynous, gamopetalous, sometimes 2-lipped, lobes mostly imbricate in bud. Stamens inserted on the corolla tube, alternating with the lobes, extrorse or introrse. Anthers free, 2-celled, dorsifixed, versatile, cells parallel, opening lengthwise, mostly introrse; filaments sometimes reflexed or curved in bud. Ovary inferior, 1-(2-)3-5(-8)-celled, in fruit cells sometimes partly abortive. Style terminal, often slender with one knoblike stigma, or 3 short partly connate styles. Ovules 1(-~), pendulous or axile. Fruit a drupe or berry, rarely a capsule. Seeds often only one per fruit, often with bony testa. Endosperm copious, sometimes ruminate; embryo straight, often small and linear, axial, cotyledons oval or oblong. Distr. Ca 10-14 genera, mainly distributed on the N. hemisphere, in the tropics mostly confined to the mountains, on the S. hemisphere only Viburnum and Sambucus, an endemic genus in New Zealand, two monotypic endemic genera in New Caledonia, in Australia only Sambucus in the eastern part.