Woody slender climbers, monoecious, often with coiled tendrils at base of inflorescence; stems cable-like, appearing to be composed of several coalescent axes. Leaves imparipinnate; petiole and rachis commonly winged; stipulate; leaflets 2-jugate. Flowers slightly irregular; in an axillary thyrse, simple, branched or clustered. Sepals 5, unequal, 2 inner ones connate at base. Petals 4, with prominent scale. Disc unilateral with 4 glands. Stamens and staminodes 8, excentric; filaments shortly connate at base. Ovary stalked, 3-locular, sometimes 3-angled, pubescent; with a single ovule in each locule; style trifid. Fruit a 3-valved, obovoid capsule, sometimes spiny, dehiscing into 3 valves. Seeds borne on central axis, black with white aril. x = 12.
Species +/- 200 in tropical and subtropical America; 1 species: Paullinia pinnata L. throughout tropical Africa, reaching as far south as sthn Afr. in NE Botswana.