Description from Flora of China
Herbs perennial or subshrubs, dioecious or hermaphroditic, usually with short rhizomes. Main stems erect or climbing, generally branched, with cladodes (leaflike stems) in axils of main stems and branches. Cladodes borne in clusters, rarely solitary, green, flat, 3-angled, or subterete. Leaves appressed to stem, not green, scalelike, base spurred, spurs often extended into spines. Inflorescence an axillary cluster of flowers, rarely a solitary flower, sometimes a raceme or umbel. Pedicel articulate, subtended by membranous bracteoles. Perianth campanulate or subglobose; segments free or occasionally connate at base. Stamens 6; filaments usually adnate to perianth segments in varying degrees; anthers dorsifixed. Ovary 3-loculed; ovules few per locule. Fruit a berry. Seeds 1 to few.
Between 160 and 300 species: widespread in temperate and tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe; 31 species (15 endemic, two introduced) in China.
(Authors: Chen Xinqi (陈心启 Chen Sing-chi); Kamilla G. Tamanian)