This distinctive species is locally abundant on heathlands and lightly-shaded acid woodlands over much of England and Wales, with outliers in Scotland and Ireland. It is also widespread in central and northern Europe. It is quickly noticed due to the clusters of reddish or purplish-pink flowers, produced on widely diverging branches of the inflorescence, usually close to ground-level. The sharply-pointed sepals bend outwards after flowering, producing a star-like shape.
Stamens do not usually overtop the styles when viewed from the side (upper flower above). This is a feature of the Sprengeliani, though some species from other Series also show this.
Petals are fairly broad, but can appear quite narrow if they become crumpled or folded. Beware plants with faded petals (below), which can look quite different.
Leaves are sparsely hairy above and below, but not felted below. Three, four or five leaflets may be present.
Stems are hairy, with numerous stout curved prickles and scattered short-stalked glands hidden amongst the hairs. Trailing stems can be much weaker: relatively thin, and round in cross-section.