Herbs, shrubs, or rarely small trees [or vines], without laticifers. Stipules absent. Leaves alternate, rarely opposite or whorled, simple. Inflorescences a cyme, raceme, head, or sometimes single flowered in axils. Flowers perfect, protandrous. Calyx epigynous, tubular, mostly (3-)5-lobed. Corolla sympetalous, irregular, 2-lipped or sometimes 1-labiate due to 2-segmentation of posterior lip to base; lobes 5, valvate, often induplicate. Stamens 5, alternate with corolla lobes, free from corolla or adnate to base of corolla tube; anthers 4-sporangiate and dithecal, introrse, longitudinally dehiscent. Ovary inferior, semi-inferior [or rarely (Velleia Smith) essentially superior], (1 or)2-locular [occasionally 4-locular (Scaevola porocarya F. Mueller)]; ovules 1 to many per locule, on axile or basal-axile placentas, anatropous. Fruit usually a capsule, less often a drupe or a small nut, often with persistent calyx. Seeds with a straight embryo embedded in copious endosperm.
Twelve genera and ca. 400 species: pantropical and extending into subtropics; two genera and three species in China.
The greatest diversity of the family is in Australia.The greatest diversity of the family is in Australia.