Not a large family, most abundant in western North America, a few in Europe and Asia; sometimes slightly woody; the leaves without stipules; the flowers generally regular; the calyx with five united sepals; the corolla with five united petals, rolled up in the bud and often remaining more or less twisted to one side in the flowers; the stamens with slender filaments, with swinging anthers, often unequally inserted, on the tube or throat of the corolla and alternate with its lobes; the ovary superior, with a slender style and three-lobed stigma, but in immature flowers the three branches are folded together so that the style appears to have no lobes; the pod with three compartments, containing few or many seeds, which are sometimes winged and sometimes mucilaginous.

There are a good many kinds of Polemonium, growing in cool places, usually perennials; the leaves alternate, with leaflets, not toothed; the calyx not ribbed or angled, bell-shaped; the corolla more or less bell-shaped; the stamens equally inserted, but often of unequal lengths; the seeds mucilaginous when wet. This is the Greek name, used by Dioscorides.