A low, creeping species with elliptical bright pink petals, red styles and long, patent or erect sepals. A useful identification character is that the fruits are often poorly formed or completely sterile. It is particularly characteristic of shady woodland in lowland habitats, occurring both on acidic and calcareous soils and can form large, extensive colonies.
Panicles are widely branched, producing a pyramidal shape when well developed, with reddish glands and acicles prominent on the floral branches and sepals. Note also the frequent long, fine prickles on the rachis and branches.
Petals are usually bright mid-pink to rose pink, narrowly elliptical-obovate (c.13 x 6mm) and widely separated on the open flower, so that the sepals and the red styles are clearly visible. Stamens are longer than the styles, with the filaments white or rarely pink in colour. The sepals are narrowly triangular, thinly white-bordered with long leafy tips. They are patent with curled-up tips at flowering, but usually become erect and clasp the fruit. Note the prominent short-stalked red-tipped glands and acicles on the sepals.
Petals can rarely be almost white on bushes growing in sunny places.
The foliage is a distinctive yellow-green in colour. The leaves have 3 or (less often) 5 leaflets which are relatively thin and flat with shallowly serrate margins; the terminal leaflet is elliptical (sometimes slightly obovate), c.8-11 x 4-6cm, with a rounded or slightly indented base and a medium to long acuminate apex (which appears to be usually curled downwards or to one side).
Leaflets are glabrescent above (downy at first, becoming glabrous) and pubescent on the veins below.
The first-year stem is bluntly angled, green to dull reddish purple in colour, sometimes with a whitish pruinose coating. It is usually glabrous, but can be moderately hairy, especially when young. The glands are relatively short-stalked, of equal size and numerous, and are mixed with abundant short to long acicles on the faces. The stem also has frequent declining prickles which are mainly on the angles and mostly shorter than the stem diameter. These have a very long, narrow base, but are rapidly contracted to a needle-like limb. The prickles are red-based and yellow-tipped when exposed to the sun.