About 250 species of mostly tropical or subtrobical aromatic trees and shrubs, few in temperate zones, deciduous or evergreen, usually prickly.  Leaves alternate, compound (odd pinnate, rarely three leaflets), leaflets opposite, entire or serrate, with minute clear dots (glands).  Flowers small, yellowish green, dioecious or polygamous (unisexual and bisexual flowers on the same plant), 3-8 per cluster.  Mature fruit often split to reveal 1-2 black seeds attached by short threads.  Native mostly to Asia, Australia, North and South America, and Africa.
Zanthoxylem: xanthos, yellow, and xylon, wood, a reference to the yellow wood of some species.