A family of xerophytic or halophytic, mostly woody, perennial shrubs, with some herbs and trees, in which the leaves are opposite, usually fleshy, leathery, or hairy, with stipules which often become spiny. The branches are sometimes joined at the nodes. The flowers are regular, bisexual, and are held in cymes, paired or solitary. They have 4 or 5 overlapping sepals and the same number of petals, usually also overlapping, although in some species the petals are absent. The stamens are in whorls of 5 with up to 3 whorls. The ovary is superior, usually of 5 fused carpels, and often winged. There are usually 5 locules with numerous ovules. The stigmas are lobed and held in a short style. The fruit is a dehiscent capsule, or berry- or drupe-like, containing endospermic seeds. There are 6 subfamilies, divided mainly by the structure of their fruit. The family contains some valuable timber trees, e.g. of Guaiacum species (lignum vitae) which give a very durable timber. Other species produce edible fruit, and some are used medicinally. There are 27 genera, with about 250 species, found in tropical and subtropical regions of both hemispheres.
Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry.