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Grows to 3–6 m tall, with a stem up to 20 cm in diameter. The leaves are opposite, lanceolate to elliptical, 3-8 cm long and 1-3 cm broad, with a finely serrated edge. Leaves are dark green in summer. Fall color ranges from yellow-green to reddish-purple. The hermaphrodite flowers are produced in late spring and are insect-pollinated; they are rather inconspicuous, small, yellowish green and grow in cymes of 3-8 together. The capsular fruit ripens in autumn, and is red to purple or pink in colour and approximately 1-1.5 cm wide. When ripe, the four lobes split open to reveal the orange seeds.
It inhabits the edges of forest, hedges and gentle slopes, tending to thrive on nutrient-rich, chalky and salt-poor soils. Native to Europe.
Poisonous species and has an unpleasant odor.