Family Sometimes included in Liliaceae.
Habit and leaf form. Medium or small, generally glabrous herbs. Perennial; plants with a basal concentration of leaves, or with neither basal nor terminal concentrations of leaves; cormous, or tuberous. Leaves alternate; spiral, or distichous; sessile; sheathing. Leaf sheaths with free margins. Leaves simple. Leaf blades entire; linear to lanceolate, or ovate, or orbicular; parallel-veined; without cross-venules; attenuate at the base. Leaf blade margins entire. Leaf anatomy. Guard-cells not ‘grass type’. Stem anatomy. Secondary thickening absent.
Reproductive type, pollination. Fertile flowers hermaphrodite. Unisexual flowers absent. Plants hermaphrodite.
Inflorescence and flower features. Flowers aggregated in ‘inflorescences’. Inflorescences scapiflorous to not scapiflorous; terminal; simple or compound racemes or thyrses. Flowers bracteate; regular, or somewhat irregular; when irregular, somewhat zygomorphic. The floral asymmetry (when present) involving the androecium (e.g. sometimes with one anther much larger than the rest), or involving the perianth and involving the androecium. Flowers 3 merous; cyclic; tetracyclic. Perigone tube present (short), or absent. Perianth of ‘tepals’ (the members spreading or reflexed); 6; 2 -whorled; isomerous; petaloid; similar in the two whorls; white, or yellow, or violet, or blue. Androecium 6. Androecial members adnate; all equal, or markedly unequal; free of one another to coherent (via shortly connate filament bases). Androecium exclusively of fertile stamens, or including staminodes. Staminodes when present, 1–3(–5). Stamens (1–)3–6; reduced in number relative to the adjacent perianth to diplostemonous. Anthers separate from one another, or connivent, or cohering (connate in Conanthera); basifixed (mostly), or dorsifixed (peltate, in Tecophilaea); non-versatile; apically dehiscing via pores, or dehiscing via short slits (dehiscing longitudinally only in Lanaria, a dubious inclusion in this family); introrse; appendaged, or unappendaged. The anther appendages apical, or basal, or apical and basal (the connective sometimes produced at both ends). Gynoecium 3 carpelled. The pistil 3 celled. Carpels isomerous with the perianth. Gynoecium syncarpous; eu-syncarpous; partly inferior (usually), or superior (only in Walleria, which probably belongs elsewhere). Ovary plurilocular; 3 locular. Gynoecium stylate. Styles 1 (the style filiform); apical. Stigmas 1; more or less 3 - lobed; small, capitate. Placentation axile. Ovules 4–50 per locule (‘several to many’); in two rows; non-arillate; anatropous.
Fruit and seed features. Fruit non-fleshy; dehiscent; a capsule. Capsules apically loculicidal. Fruit many seeded. Seeds endospermic; small. Embryo well differentiated. Testa encrusted with phytomelan (usually), or without phytomelan (only Walleria, which may belong elsewhere).
Geography, cytology, number of species. Holarctic, Paleotropical, Neotropical, Cape, and Antarctic. World distribution: Pacific North and South America, central and South Africa. 22 species.