Shrubs, small trees, or sometimes woody climbers, monoecious or dioecious. Leaves digitate, (l-)3(-5)-foliolate. Inflorescences axillary, usually either simple or composed of a few long and slender, racemi-form thyrses, sometimes paniculate. Flowers unisexual, obliquely zygomorphic. Sepals 4, free, imbricate, outer 2 distinctly narrower than the inner ones. Petals 4, nail-shaped to spathulate, inside above the claw with a 2-lobed scale (much smaller than to nearly as big as the blade) which is usually bearded. Stamens 8, rarely fewer, all with about the same length, exserted in male flowers; Ovary deeply 2- (or 3-)lobed, 2- (or 3-) celled, 1 ovule per cell; Fruits drupaceous, mostly consisting of 1 mericarp only, globular to obovoid, thin-walled, mostly almost glabrous when ripe. Seeds without aril.
Probably monotypic, though up to 250 species may be accepted. Cir-cumtropical, in some regions penetrating into the Subtropics. See .
Closely related to the Central and South American genus Thouinia Sm., which differs mainly by its winged fruits.