Herbaceous or woody climbers with twining stems and rhizomatous or tuberous roots, occasionally with aerial tubers. Leaves alternate, sometimes opposite, entire, heart-shaped to palmately lobed with 3-9 veins arching up from the base. Flower clusters forming spikes, racemes or panicles. Flowers either bisexual, or unisexual (the sexes on separate plants) small, green. Perianth segments 6 in 2 whorls, usually united at the base. Male flowers with 6 stamens in 2 whorls (1 whorl sometimes of staminodes or absent). Female flowers with ovaries inferior, of 3 united carpels with axile placentation and 2 ovules per chamber. Fruit a capsule (often 3-winged), rarely a berry.
Occasionally found in public gardens for the attractive sometimes colourful foliage, or in the tropics for the yams. Tamus communis is a summer-flowering climber from Europe, Africa and Asia that is occasionally grown for its shiny leaves and bright red (poisonous) berries each about 1 cm wide; the greenish flowers are about 4 mm wide.
Twining unisexual plants with woody or tuberous rootstock, leaves with mostly 3-9 arching veins from leaf base.
6 genera and 880 species from tropical and warm temperate regions, a few temperate. Australia has 1 genus and 5 species.
Source: (2005). Dioscoreaceae. In: . Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 5. Flowering plants. Monocotyledons. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.