Description from Flora of China
Woody climbers, sometimes vines, rarely small succulent trees, hermaphroditic or polygamo-monoecious to polygamo-dioecious. Stems unarmed, sometimes with conspicuous lenticels, or bark sometimes shredding (in most species of Vitis); branches often swollen at 3-7-lacunar nodes; pith continuous or interrupted by diaphragms at nodes; tendrils simple, bifurcate to trifurcate, or 4-12-branched (in Parthenocissus), usually leaf-opposed, rarely tendrils absent. Raphide sacs present in parenchymatous tissues. Leaves simple, lobed or unlobed, or digitately or pedately compound to 1-3-pinnately compound, alternate, distichous, variously toothed, commonly with multicellular, stalked, caducous spherical structures known as "pearl" glands; stipules 2 or rarely absent, often caducous. Flowers small, with prophylls, in panicles, corymbs, or rarely spikes, often leaf-opposite, pseudo-terminal, or axillary (in Cayratia and Tetrastigma), actinomorphic, hypogynous, 4- or 5(-7 as in Rhoicissus)-merous. Calyx with 4 or 5(-7) small teeth or lobes or a continuous ring. Petals valvate, 4 or 5(-7), free or basally connate, or distally connate forming a calyptra (e.g., in Vitis). Stamens 4 or 5(-7), antepetalous; anthers introrse, dehiscing longitudinally, tetrasporangiate or rarely bisporangiate. Floral disk intrastaminal, ring-shaped, cupular, or gland-shaped. Ovary superior, 2-loculed; ovules 2 per locule; placentation axile, appearing nearly basal, apotropous or anatropous, bitegmic, crassinucellar; style simple, connate; stigma discoid or capitate, rarely 4-lobed (Tetrastigma), not papillate. Fruit a berry, 1-4-seeded. Seeds endotestal, with an abaxial chalazal knot and an adaxial raphe with 2 furrows, one on each side; embryo straight, small; endosperm oily, proteinaceous, copious, ruminate.
Li Chaoluan. 1998. Vitaceae (excluding Leea). In: Li Chaoluan, ed., Fl. Reipubl. Popularis Sin. 48(2): ii-vii, 1-3, 12-208.
The family is important for grapes, wine, and raisins (especially Vitis vinifera, and several other species and hybrids of Vitis). There are a few ornamental climbers in the genera Ampelopsis, Cissus, Parthenocissus, and Tetrastigma, of which Parthenocissus tricuspidata of China and Japan and P. quinquefolia of eastern North America are well-known examples. Some plants (e.g., Ampelopsis japonica, Cissus quadrangularis, and Tetrastigma hemsleyanum) are highly regarded medicines.
About 14 genera and ca. 900 species: worldwide, but mostly in tropical and subtropical regions; eight genera and 146 species (87 endemic, two introduced) in China.
(Authors: Chen Zhiduan (陈之端), Ren Hui (任辉); Jun Wen (文军))