Small, sometimes moderate, erect or procumbent, rarely climbing, acaulescent or trunked, solitary or clustered, unarmed, pleonanthic, dioecious palms. Stem usually slender, covered wholly or partially in fibrous leaf bases or smooth, green, prominently ringed with leaf scars. Leaves bifid or variously pinnate, very rarely entire, reduplicate; sheath closed or becoming split, short or elongate, sometimes with a marcescent lobe opposite the petiole; petiole short to elongate, flattened adaxially, rounded abaxially, sometimes with a prominent pale green or yellow, abaxial stripe; rachis rounded, angled, or flattened adaxially, rounded abaxially; blade entire, bifid and pinnately ribbed, or regularly or irregularly pinnately divided, leaflets few or many, of 1 or several folds, narrow or broad, often oblique or sigmoid, acuminate, surfaces glabrous. Inflorescences among or below the leaves, solitary or several per leaf axil, unbranched or branched to 1(–2) order, sometimes forked; staminate often more branched than pistillate; peduncle short to elongate; prophyll tubular with tapering bifid tip; peduncular bracts 2-several, elongate, tubular, sheathing the peduncle, coriaceous or membranous, persistent, tips short, bifid; rachillae, long or short, slender or fleshy, sometimes ridged, lacking bracts at maturity, bearing closely appressed or rather widely spaced, spirally arranged staminate or pistillate flowers, rarely bearing curved acervuli of staminate flowers. Flowers sessile or partly enclosed in a cavity in the fleshy rachilla, small or minute. Staminate flowers symmetrical; sepals 3, entire, united basally or distinct; petals 3, distinct or variously connate, lobes valvate; stamens 6, filaments short, broad or awl-shaped; anthers dorsifixed, included, oblong or didymous; pistillode various, cylindric or expanded basally, sometimes trilobed. Pollen ellipsoidal, occasionally oblate triangular, bi-symmetric or slightly asymmetric; aperture a distal sulcus, occasionally a trichotomosulcus; ectexine tectate, finely rugulate, finely perforate-rugulate, finely reticulate, or reticulate, aperture margin either similar or, more frequently, broad and psilate or scabrate, in reticulate pollen, reticulum often notably finer on proximal face, less frequently proximal face psilate; infratectum columellate; longest axis 20–36 µm; post-meiotic tetrads usually tetrahedral, sometimes tetragonal or rarely rhomboidal [50/108]. Pistillate flower with sepals 3, as in the staminate; petals 3, usually connate, distinct lobes valvate or imbricate; staminodes present and tooth-like or absent, gynoecium ovoid, tricarpellate, syncarpous, trilocular, trilovulate, stigmas small, recurved, ovule campylotropous, laterally inserted. Fruit small, globose or oblong, stigmatic remains basal; epicarp smooth, mesocarp fleshy, endocarp thin. Seed erect, globose, or ellipsoidal, hilum small, basal, branches of raphe obscure, endosperm cartilaginous; embryo basal to subapical. Germination adjacent-ligular; eophyll bifid or pinnate. Cytology: 2n = 26, 32.
Leaf (Tomlinson 1961, Roth 1990), root (Seubert 1998a, 1998b), seed (Roth 1990). Some features of floral anatomy, including vascularisation of the ovule by a strand from each ventral bundle and abundant raphides in styles and stigmas, are characteristic of other genera in Chamaedoreeae and Ceroxyleae (Uhl and Moore 1971).
Inflorescences of a few species (e.g., C. tepejilote) are eaten as vegetables, and leaves of some species are used for thatch. Some are used medicinally (Plotkin and Balick 1984). Cut leaves of some species, harvested from the wild, are used as foliage in the cut flower trade. Commercially, several species are extremely important as pot plants, produced in vast quantities.