Shrubs, mostly climbing, monoecious or dioecious. Leaves alternate, digitate or palmate, rarely pinnate compound, petiolate, exstipulate; petiolules usually swollen at base; hairs simple. Inflorescence racemose, often axillary and fascicled. Flowers unisexual, sometimes polygamous regular, trimerous. Sepals (or perianth) 3 to 6, in one or two whorls, imbricate or the outer valvate, inner often petaloid. Petals 6, very small often reduced, nectariform or absent. Stamens 6, free or basally connate, with anthers free, dithecous, extrorsely and longitudinally opening with connectives often protruding; staminodes 6 or absent in female flowers. Carpels 3(-15) in female flowers, free, superior, diverging, each 1-locular and generally many ovuled on parietal placenta; stigma oblique, sessile; very reduced or minute; pistillodes present or absent in male flowers. Fruit a fleshy follicle or berry, indehiscent or opening longitudinally by the adaxial suture at maturity, often flesh-coloured; seeds ovoid or slightly reniform with copious endosperm and small embryo.
A small family of 7 genera and about 30 species in E. Asia, Himalayas and temperate S. America (Chile).
Sometimes included under Berberidaceae (Benth. & Hook. f., Gen. Pl. 1:40. 1862; Hook. f., Fl. Brit. Ind. 1:108. 1872; Parker, For. Fl. Punjab (reprint ed.) 16. 1956) from which it differs primarily by its usually climbing habit, absence of oil cells and spines, broad medullary rays, unisexual flowers with female flowers having 3 or more free and diverging carpels, and anthers of male flowers opening extrorsely and longitudinally.
Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the United States Department of Agriculture for financing this research under P.L. 480. Thanks are also due to Mr. I.C. Hedge and Prof. E. Nasir for useful suggestions and information regarding Akebia quinata.