Small to massive, solitary, acaulescent or erect, unarmed, pleonanthic, monoecious palms. Stem subterranean to tall, usually becoming bare, obliquely marked with leaf scars. Leaves massive, pinnate, marcescent; sheath thick, finely or coarsely fibrous (in Attalea funifera producing piassava); petiole lacking or short to elongate, adaxially channelled, abaxially rounded, variously tomentose, rachis adaxially channelled near the base, distally angled, abaxially rounded or flattened, abaxially variously tomentose; leaflets inserted on the lateral faces or in shallow grooves; leaflets numerous, linear-lanceolate, single-fold, regularly arranged or in clusters of 2–5, irregularly lobed at the tips, caducous scales abundant along the leaflet margins exposed in the sword leaf, midrib prominent, other longitudinal veins rather indistinct, transverse veinlets abundant, conspicuous. Inflorescences solitary, interfoliar, ± erect or becoming pendulous, entirely staminate, entirely pistillate, or with flowers of both sexes, branched to 1 order or branches short and flowers appearing ± sessile on the main axis; peduncle short to long; prophyll obscured by leaf sheaths and not known, peduncular bract tubular, entirely enclosing the inflorescence in bud with a short to long solid beak, splitting abaxially, expanding and usually becoming cowl-like, thick and woody, abaxially deeply grooved, adaxially glabrous, abaxially densely tomentose, long persistent, subsequent peduncular bracts small, incomplete, triangular, ± coriaceous; rachis shorter or longer than the peduncle, bearing spirally or unilaterally arranged rachillae, each subtended by a short triangular bract; staminate rachillae with a short to long basal bare portion, above which bearing paired or solitary flowers, spirally arranged (rarely) or in 2 rows on one side, glabrous or floccose-tomentose, bisexual rachillae of two types, either similar to the staminate but bearing a few basal pistillate flowers or bearing 1 to several triads with a short slender apical portion bearing fertile or sterile staminate flowers, in the putative pistillate rachillae lacking all trace of staminate flowers at maturity. Staminate flowers asymmetrical; sepals 3, distinct, triangular, very small, sometimes slightly imbricate basally; petals 3, distinct, much longer than the sepals, ovate-triangular, acute, valvate, or terete and scarcely valvate, or terete basally and distally expanded into a triangular ± valvate limb; stamens 3–75, usually much shorter, rarely much longer than the petals, filaments slender, short to long, anthers ± straight to twisted and coiled, dorsifixed or rarely medifixed, sometimes sagittate basally, introrse or latrose; pistillode minute or absent. Pollen ellipsoidal, usually with either slight or obvious asymmetry, occasionally pyriform, trichotomosulcate pollen also present; aperture a distal sulcus or trichotomosulcus; ectexine tectate, finely to coarsely perforate, finely to coarsely perforate and micro-channelled, or perforate-rugulate or, unusually, tectate gemmate, aperture margin slightly finer; infratectum columellate; longest axis 32–85 µm [17/71]. Pistillate flowers very much larger than the staminate, generally ovoid; sepals 3, distinct, ± triangular, broadly imbricate, leathery; petals 3, distinct, rounded or ± triangular with triangular tips, glabrous or tomentose; staminodal ring large, coriaceous, tomentose; gynoecium of 3–several connate carpels, ovoid or obpyriform, style tapering, stigmatic lobes equal in number to the carpels, linear, reflexed at anthesis, ovules 1 per carpel, basal, form unknown. Fruit ± ovoid, sometimes asymmetrical, 1–several seeded, with a short to moderate beak and apical stigmatic remains, perianth and staminodal ring persistent and enlarging; epicarp minutely grooved, bearing scales, mesocarp usually fleshy and fibrous, endocarp very thick, stony, smooth without or closely grooved, often with included fibres, the pores subbasal, deeply impressed, ?always. Seed ellipsoidal or laterally somewhat flattened, basally attached with fine anastomosing raphe bundles, endosperm homogeneous, solid (?always); embryo basal. Germination remote-tubular; eophyll entire, lanceolate. Cytology: 2n = 32.
Solitary, small to massive pinnate-leaved palms native to Central to South America and the Caribbean, with fibrous leaf sheaths, often huge leaves, and with inflorescences that are either staminate or pistillate or carry flowers of both sexes, all on the same plant; fruit is generally large with very thick endocarp, 1–3 or more seeded.