They can be easily distinguished from other ferns by their complex polycyclic stelar structure, often large, starchy rhizomes with fleshy or papery stipule-like outgrowths on each side of the petioles, presence of swollen nodes on rachises and often also on petioles, and eusporangia that are often fused and ligneous. All genera, except Christensenia, have free venation.
Marattiaceae are found in tropical or subtropical forests where the temperature and air humidity remain high throughout the year. While Angiopteris and Christensenia prefer lowland rain forest and grow in partly open habitats, Marattia has a preference for high elevation cloud forest and semi-deciduous forest in the subtropics. Danaea grows mostly in closed canopy, lowland and mountain rain forest and other shady, humid places, along stream banks, in ravines, and in sinkholes or near waterfalls, quite often on rather steep slopes.