Most of the species are annuals or herbaceous perennials, but a few species are subshrubs with woody stems; these are treated in the section Diplacus. Diplacus is clearly derived from within Mimulus s.l. and was not usually considered to be generically distinct. Hence, it would not be treated as a genus separate from Mimulus now, though it might become a section of a yet-to-be defined split from Mimulus s.str.. A large number of the species grow in moist to wet soils with some growing even in shallow water. Some species produce copious amounts of aromatic compounds, giving them a musky odor (hence "musk-flowers").
Mimulus are called monkey-flowers because some species have flowers shaped like a monkeys face, others have painted faces resembling a monkey. The generic name, Latin mimus meaning "mimic actor", from the Greek mimos meaning "imitator" also references this. The stem of a few species of Mimulus can be either smooth or hairy, and this trait is determined by a simple allelic difference. At least M. lewisii is known to possess "flypaper-type" traps and is apparently protocarnivorous, supplementing its nutrients with small insects.
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