Description from Flora of China
Climbing or twining vines, rarely erect shrubs or small trees; indumentum of simple hairs, often absent. Stems striate, without spines; wood often with radial pith rays. Leaves alternate, spiral; stipules absent; petiole swollen at base and apex; leaf blade simple, sometimes palmately lobed, rarely trifoliolate, venation often palmate, less often pinnate. Inflorescences axillary, sometimes from old wood, rarely superaxillary or terminal, often umbelliform cymes, rarely reduced to single flower or flowers in a head on a discoid receptacle, arranged in thyrses, compound umbels, or racemelike; bracts usually small, rarely leafy (female Cocculus). Flowers unisexual (plants dioecious), usually small, inconspicuous, mostly pedicellate. Sepals often in whorls of (2 or)3(or 4), rarely reduced to 1 (female Stephania), sometimes spirally arranged (Hypserpa, Menispermum), free or less often connate, imbricate or valvate. Petals usually 3 or 6 in 1 or 2 whorls, rarely 2 or 4, sometimes reduced to 1 or absent, usually free, rarely connate, imbricate or valvate. Stamens (2-)6-8(to many); filaments free or connate, sometimes stamens completely fused into synandrium; anthers 1- or 2-locular or apparently 4-locular, dehiscing longitudinally or transversely. Staminodes sometimes present in female flowers. Carpels 1-6[to many], free, often swollen on one side; style initially terminal; stigma lobed or divided, rarely entire. Ovules 2 reducing to 1 by abortion. Pistillodes very small or absent in male flower. Fruit a drupe, straight or often horseshoe-shaped; exocarp membranous or leathery; mesocarp usually fleshy; endocarp bony or sometimes woody, rarely leathery, surface usually variously ornamented, rarely smooth, sides usually with central smooth and sunken condyle, rarely inconspicuous or lacking (e.g., Tinomiscium). Seed usually curved; seed coat thin; endosperm present or absent; embryo mostly curved (straight in Tinomiscium); radicle small, opposite to style scar; cotyledons flat and foliaceous or thick and semiterete.
Plants of the family contain many different alkaloids and are famous for their medicinal usages. Some species, such as Pericampylus glaucus and Sinomenium acutum, are used for making rattan articles in Sichuan.
Lo Hsienshui. 1996. Menispermaceae. In: Law Yuwu, ed., Fl. Reipubl. Popularis Sin. 30(1): 1-81.
About 65 genera and 350 species: tropical, subtropical, and few temperate regions; 19 genera and 77 species (43 endemic) in China.
(Authors: Luo Xianrui (罗献瑞 Lo Hsien-shui), Chen Tao (陈涛); Michael G. Gilbert)