Herbs, climbers, shrubs or arborescent, woody growth via anomalous secondary thickening relatively common. Underground perennating organs present; rhizomes, bulbs, corms, tuberous roots or a woody caudex. Indumentum uncommon. Stems absent to large and trunk-like. Leaves usually narrow with parallel venation, rarely with reticulate secondary venation, basal in stemless taxa, otherwise at stem apices or rarely alternate on stems in climbing taxa such as Behnia, Herreria and Eustrephus in the tropics; leaves occasionally absent and functionally replaced by phylloclades (Asparagus in the tropics). Inflorescences often racemose, but spikes, panicles and cymose infls also encountered (but paniculate taxa either lacking phytomelan in seeds or rhizomatous and with leaf sheaths herbaceous, not membranous), lacking spathaceous bracts at scape/peduncle apex or with 3 or more; where infl. capitate or umbelliform never enclosed by 2 fleshy bracts in bud and with bracts which are scarious throughout development. Flowers often on articulated pedicels, usually actinomorphic, with 6 free to fused tepals except in Tupistra and Aspidistra, stamens 6 (rarely 3, 4, 8, 10 or 12), usually free, ovary superior to inferior, 3-locular, styles divided at apex only, not bifid. Fruit often capsular but berries also common and other fruit types occur. Seeds often black due to presence of phytomelan (main exception Nolinoideae)
Usually glabrous. Leaves mainly in rosettes or clustered on short stems. Inflorescences often racemose, if umbelliform then underground parts cormous or a woody rhizome, never bulbous. Pedicels often articulated. Fruit usually a capsule or berry. Seeds often black.
Look alike: Xanthorrhoeaceae (inflorescence a panicle or if a raceme either a succulent with tubular flowers or a herb with membranous leaf sheaths; seeds always phytomelanous).