Monoecious perennial herbs with several short erect stems arising from a thick, much-branched woody rootstock; indumentum of multicellular, branched or unbranched, colourless hairs; latex white. Leaves alternate, shortly petiolate, blades simple, obovate, elliptic, lanceolate or linear, entire to minutely serrulate, often with 1 or 2 glands on the margin towards the base; stipules minute, soon deciduous. Inflorescences terminal on main axes, overtopped by lateral leafy shoots, spicate or racemiform, mostly male with 1-4 female flowers at base. Male flowers with short pedicels; calyx lobes 3(4), triangular, with reddish tinge; petals 0; stamens 3(4), free; male bracts with 2 fleshy stipitate glands, one on each side. Female flowers subsessile to shortly stalked in fruit; calyx lobes 3(4), larger than in male flowers, often alternating with minute glands; ovary 3-lobed, each lobe with 2 (or more) +/- conical appedages, styles 3. Fruit 3-lobed, septicidally dehiscent into 3 bivalved cocci, each valve with a small appendage. Seeds subcylindric, smooth, slightly shiny, pale grey, with a fleshy caruncle.
Species +/- 15, pantropical: 1 in Asia and Australia, 3 or 4 in Africa, the remainder in S America; sthn trop. Afr. 1:Microstachys acetosella(Milne-Redh.) Esser ( =Sapium acetosellaMilne-Redh.), Angola, Zambia.
Sapium Jacq. in part as to some African species; Leonard: 151 (1962); Radcliffe-Smith: 318 (1996).