Erect to decumbent perennials with a sympodial rhizome or a stolon, corm or bulb. Roots and subterranean stems often red or reddish. Leaves basal or cauline, distichous, generally ascending, straight, rarely bent or twisted; base sheathing and equitant, blades ensiform, unifacial, lanceolate, narrowly linear or acicular, hollow-tubular in Tribonanthes, entire, acuminate, mucronate, or aristate, glabrous or pubescent, flat, plicate in Barberetta and Wachendorfia. Inflorescence terminal on short to elongate aerial shoots, scapose to subscapose, bracteate, consisting of a simple raceme (Barberetta), a raceme or panicle of 1, 2, or 3-many flower clusters (Haemodorum), or a corymb, raceme, panicle or capitulum of simple, bifurcate, or trifurcate helicoid cymes. Inflorescence axes and bracts glabrous or canescent to tomentose. Flowers variously colored, pedicellate to subsessile, bisexual, ascending, divergent or pendulous, actinomorphic or zygomorphic, trimerous; perianth membranous to coriaceous, either composed of 3 outer and 3 inner imbricate, ascending to spreading, distinct or basally fused similar tepals (outer median tepal posteriorly positioned in zygomorphic taxa) or (in Anigozanthos, Blancoa, and Conostylis) perianth short to long tubular (tube rarely absent) with 6 monocyclic and valvate lobes, the tube splitting at anthesis along mid-anterior line in Anigozanthos; tepals or tepal lobes glabrous (Haemodorum, some Phlebocarya spp.) or canescent, hispidulous or tomentose externally. Trichomes tapering, pilate or branched. Stamens 6 or 3, then opposite inner tepals, distinct, inserted or exserted, free or adnate to perianth tube, equal or unequal in length and/or position; staminodia present in Schiekia and Pyrrorhiza; filaments terete to basally thickened or flattened; anthers oblong, straight or arcuate (apically mucronate, apiculate or laminar in some taxa), basifixed, subbasifixed or dorsifixed, 2-thecate, 4-sporangiate, longitudinally and introrsely dehiscent. Gynoecium of 3 fused carpels; ovary superior or inferior, glabrous or pubescent; ovary 3-locular or (Phlebocarya) basally 3-and apically 1-locular or (Barberetta) 1-locular by abortion of lateroanterior carpels; placentation axile (basal in Phlebocarya); ovules 1-7 or numerous (ca. 20-50) per carpel, anatropous or atropous, hypotropous, pleurotropous or irregularly positioned; style terminal (subapical in Barberetta), terete or flattened on one side, straight (or curved), stigma oblong, ovoid or rudimentary, minutely papillate; septal nectaries present in most taxa. Fruit a 1-many seeded, loculicidal to apically poricidal capsule, sometimes indehiscent (in Anigozanthos fuliginosus dehiscing along septae into 3 singleseeded mericarps). Seeds discoid, ellipsoid, ovoid or globose, smooth to longitudinally ridged, glabrous or hairy; endosperm starchy, embryo minute, positioned at micropylar end. A tropical to temperate family of 13 genera and about 100 species distributed in eastern and southeastern N America, Cuba, southern Mexico, Mesoamerica, northern S America, S Africa, New Guinea and Australia.
Xiphidium occurs in moist soils, often along watercourses. Schiekia is found in mountain savannas and woodlands, and Pyrrorhiza in cloud forests. Dilatris and Wachendorfia occur in sandy, sometimes wet habitats. Members of the Conostylidoideae and Haemodorum generally occur in open to closed, winter-wet, periodically burned sandy heath vegetation or woodlands.
Lachnanthes is found in N America, ranging from Nova Scotia in Canada, extending along the coastal plain of the southeastern USA to Cuba. Xiphidium occurs from S Mexico to northern S America, with one species in Cuba. Schiekia occurs in northern S America from Venezuela to Guiana. Pyrrorhiza is restricted to the isolated. Mt. Neblina, Amazonas, Venezuela. Barberetta occurs in Transkei and Natal, S Africa, while Dilatris and Wachendorfia are endemic to the Cape, S Africa. All Conostylidoideae are restricted to SW Australia. Finally, Haemodorum is Widespread in Australia (incl. Tasmania) with its limit in New Guinea.
Underground parts of several Australian species were roasted and eaten by aborigines (Millspaugh 1887). Narcotic effects have been attributed to the eastern N American Lachnanthes caroliniana (red root), from the roots of which an invigorating tonic was made by the Aborigines (Millspaugh 1887). The Australian Haemodorum corymbosum produces a red pigment (called hemocorin), which is said to have antitumor (Schwenk 1962) and antibacterial activity (Narasimhachari et al. 1968). Several Australian species of Haemodoraceae, including species of Blancoa, Conostylis, Haemodorum, Tribonanthes and, especially, Anigozanthos are grown horticulturally. Finally, Lachnanthes caroliniana is listed as an aggressive weed in cranberry bogs (Robertson 1976).
Fruit and seed dispersal are virtually unknown. The small, dry seeds suggest dispersal by wind and water. Seeds of several genera in the Haemodoroideae have a discoid, convex/concave shape and marginal wings, features which may promote dispersal by water. The fact that almost all genera of Haemodoroideae occur in wet or seasonally wet habitats may support this hypothesis.
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