Herbs, monoecious or dioecious, fleshy, parasitic on roots or rhizomes of various hosts. Rhizome usually branched, usually with scales or warts and/or lenticels. Flowering shoots endogenously arising from rhizome; scapes with or without leaves, unbranched. Leaves scaly, opposite or alternate and distichous or spiraled, sometimes whorled, rarely contorted or clustered, without stomata. Inflorescences unisexual or androgynous, terminal, spadix or spadixlike structure covered with minute branches; branches frequently subtended by variously modified bract. Flowers unisexual, pedicellate or sessile. Male flowers: larger than female flowers, 3(or 4 or more)-merous. Perianth apically lobed or dentate, sometimes absent; lobes valvate. Stamens 1 or 2 when perianth absent or usually as numerous as and opposite to perianth lobes when perianth present; filaments free or connate into a synandrium; anthers free or connate, 2-loculed or more, dehiscent by slits. Female flowers: congested on branches or basally on spadicles and/or shoot axis. Perianth absent or reduced and 2- to irregularly lobed, adnate to ovary. Ovary inferior. styles 1 or 2; stigmas slightly capitellate. Fruit a 1-seeded achene.
Eighteen genera and ca. 50 species: primarily in tropical and subtropical regions; two genera and 13 species (one endemic) in China.
Tam Pui-cheung. 1988. Balanophoraceae. In: Kiu Hua-shing & Ling Yeou-ruenn, eds., Fl. Reipubl. Popularis Sin. 24: 250–268.