Shrubs or woody climbers, rarely small trees or herbs. Leaves opposite, rarely whorled, simple or pinnatifid, conduplicate or involute in vernation; interpetiolar stipules absent or rarely well developed. Inflorescence thyrsoid, axillary or terminal, compact or lax, cymes 1-, 2-, or 3-flowered; paired flowers sometimes with ovaries ± fused. Cymes with a pair of bracts and 2 pairs of bracteoles, located at base of ovaries, ± fused, occasionally accrescent in fruit, rarely absent. Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic or zygomorphic. Calyx 4- or 5-lobed. Corolla epigynous, gamopetalous; lobes 4 or 5, spreading, sometimes bilabiate, aestivation imbricate. Stamens (4 or)5, didynamous, alternating with corolla lobes, sometimes exserted; anthers free, 2-celled, opening by longitudinal slits, introrse. Ovary inferior, carpels 2-8, fused; placenta axile; ovules 1 to many per locule, some of which can be abortive, pendulous; style solitary; stigmas capitate or lobed. Fruit a berry, a drupe with 2-5 pyrenes, or a leathery achene. Seeds 1 to many; embryo small, straight; endosperm copious.
Five genera and ca. 207 species: mostly in temperate regions of E Asia and E North America; five genera (one endemic) and 66 species (25 endemic) in China.
Following recent phylogenetic studies (Bell et al., Harvard Pap. Bot. 6(2): 481-499. 2001; Donoghue et al., Harvard Pap. Bot. 6(2): 459-479. 2001; W. H. Zhang et al., Molec. Phylogen. Evol. 26: 176-189. 2002), Caprifoliaceae is now thought to include Caprifolieae, Diervilleae, Linnaeeae, Morinaceae, Dipsacaceae, and Valerianaceae. However, Blacklund and Pyck (Taxon 47: 657-661. 1998) preferred to retain Caprifolieae as a distinct family and raise Linnaeeae and Diervilleae as new families, and this system is followed in the Flora of China.
Hsu Ping-sheng, Hu Jia-qi & Wang Han-jin. 1988. Caprifoliaceae (excluding Sambucus and Viburnum). In: Hsu Ping-sheng, ed., Fl. Reipubl. Popularis Sin. 72: 104-259.