Perennial herbs or subshrubs. Root cylindrical or fusiform, sometimes tuberous. Stem erect or twining, branched. Leaves scalelike, scariose, spurred at the base, spurs sometimes extending into spines, subtending 1-many cladodes. Inflorescence axillary or terminal solitary or cluster of flowers, sometimes a individuals with staminate flowers exhibit much variation in reduction of pistil, from fully functional to rudimentary. Pedicel articulated. Perianth campanulate or subglobose, tepals 6 in two series, free or connate at base. Stamens 6, filaments free and epiphyllous. Ovary superior, trilocular, axile placentation, ovules 2-many per locule, style with 3 short stigmatic branches or with capitate or lobate stigma. Fruit a berry.
Only one genus with 170-300 species (Kubitzki & Rudall in Kubitzki (ed.) Flowering Plants, Monocotyledons: 3: 128. 1998) distributed in the Old World, is represented in Pakistan by c. 13 species. Some workers have accepted the family in a broader sense with c. 16 genera (Mabberley, Plant Book: 73. 2008, 3rd. ed.).
Acknowledgement: We are thankful to the Directors and Curators of the following herbaria for herbarium and library facilities and for sending the specimens on loan: BM, E, K, KUH, LINN and RAW. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Andrew Mellon Foundation and National Science Foundation (DEB 0103783), Washington, U.S.A. obtained through the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, U.S.A. We are grateful to Professor P. H. Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden for his assistance in securing the support. It is a matter of pleasure to express our gratitude to Dr. Shahina Ghazanfar (Kew) for attending to our various queries from time to time. Grateful thanks are due to Professor Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, Vice-Chancellor, University of Karachi and Professor Anjum Parveen, Director, Institute of Plant Conservation for providing working facilities to the project and for their understanding and encouragement.