A medium to large tree with a straight trunk, somewhat hanging branches and a rather spreading, rounded crown.
Leaves alternate, simple, with a leathery texture, rounded at base, 2–6 inches long, 1–2 inches wide, elliptical; margin finely toothed with teeth turning inward. Upper surface dark green, shiny; lower surface paler with hairs along the midvein; leaf stalk with small glands near the leaf base.
Bark dark reddish brown, smooth when young; black, broken into small, scaly plates with turned-back edges with age.
Twigs slender, flexible, smooth, reddish- or olive brown with a grayish coating; pores small, numerous; with an extremely bitter almond taste and smell upon scratching.
Flowers April–May in dense, elongated, cylindrical clusters, 2–3 inches long, flowers about ¼ inch across, with 5 white petals.
Fruits August–September, clusters with 15–30 fruits, each round, dark purple to black, ¼-½ inch across, shiny, thin-skinned, with juicy flesh, bittersweet, edible.