Plants small to moderate-sized, epiphytic, epilithic, or rarely terrestrial. Rhizome long creeping, dorsiventral, densely covered with peltate or basifixed scales; fronds usually in 2 rows. Fronds remote; stipe articulate at base to short or long phyllopodia; lamina simple, imparipinnate, or pinnatifid to 4-pinnate-pinnatifid, firmly herbaceous to leathery, glabrous or sometimes covered with scales or hairs; veins free, usually forked. False veins present in several species. Sporangia typically separately borne in a small discrete sorus terminal on veins, submarginal or sometimes medial [in Humata undulata (Alderwerelt) M. Kato & Tsutsumi connate and elongate along lamina margins]; indusium opening toward margin, attached at base and sometimes at sides, orbicular, reniform, or elongate toward margin. Sporangia long stalked, 3-seriate, annulus longitudinal, consisting of 12-16 thickened cells; spores monolete, elliptic or narrowly elliptic, translucent, usually without perispore.
Epiphytes with wide–creeping rhizomes, rarely terrestrial or suberect (Nephrolepis); tubers sometimes present (Nephrolepis); scales peltate; stipes jointed to the rhizome, except in Nephrolepis and Arthropteris where the pinnae are jointed to the rhachis