This low deciduous shrub is 1-3' tall, branching occasionally. Young stems are yellowish green to reddish brown, pubescent or hairless, while older stems are light gray to nearly black. The wood of the stems is relatively brittle and weak. The blades of alternate leaves are 1-2¼' long and ½-1' across; they are oblong-ovate, obovate, or narrowly oval and smooth along their margins. The upper surface of the blades is yellowish green and slightly shiny, while the lower surface is dull yellowish green and more or less covered with fine resinous dots that are yellow (more visible with a 10x hand lens). The petiole is short and slender. Short fine hairs are often present on the lower blade surface and petioles. The flowers develop in raceme-like clusters from the axils of the leaves. Individual flowers are up to 1/3' long and a little less across, consisting of a short yellowish green calyx with 5 broad lobes and a tubular corolla with 5 tiny lobes along its rim that are strongly recurved. The red corolla (rarely white) is slightly constricted toward its throat, forming an urn-like shape. Each flower also has 10 inserted stamens and a pistil with a single style. The pedicels and calyces of the flowers are covered with short fine hairs and/or yellow resinous dots. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer, lasting about 3 weeks. Later, the flowers are replaced by globoid berries up to 1/3' across. These berries are initially green, but they become blue-black at maturity. The interior of each berry is fleshy and sweet; it contains 10 seeds, which are individually up to 2 mm. long. The woody root system is shallow and branching; it can develop clonal offsets from underground runners. Colonies of plants are often produced. The leaves turn red during the autumn before falling to the ground.