Suffrutices or scramblers with perennial or annual stems from a compact woody base. Rhizome sympodial, often covered by persistent erect cataphylls; roots many, fibrous or often tuberous. Leaves much reduced, bract-like, with a spinous or soft spur. Cladodes (phylloclades) solitary or fascicled, persistent or deciduous, green, terete or angled to flat, linear to ovate, apex mucronate, in some species forming a basal disc. Spines usually present and in some species cauline or foliar in origin. Flowers bisexual, regular, hypogynous, inconspicuous, solitary, fascicled or racemose; peduncles or pedicels terete or grooved or reduced to a disc or none, articulated once or twice; bracts minute or larger and concave. Tepals 3 + 3, similar, free and spreading or fused basally. Stamens 3 + 3; filaments free, arising from base of tepals; anthers bilocular, versatile, introrse, dorsifixed. Ovary superior, 3-locular with 2-12 axile ovules per locule; style usually short; stigma capitate, 3-lobed or with 3 branches. Fruit usually a globose or ovoid berry, sometimes a nutlet, tepals often persisting below. Seeds 1-several, globose, black. x= 10.
Genus 1, species +/- 120; Africa, Asia, Europe; introduced in Australia; sthn Afr.: species 81.