Large, upright, spreading shrubs reaching up to 15 or 20 feet in height, with flowers that change from white to yellow, juicy red berries, and opposite, simple leaves that green up much earlier than surrounding native vegetation.
Leaves are deciduous, opposite, simple, 1 to 2 1/2 inches long, narrowly oval with the tip abruptly pointed, the margin entire (not toothed or lobed); upper surface green, lower surface pale green and fuzzy.
Bark grayish brown, tight, with broad ridges and grooves.
Twigs are grayish-brown, thornless; often the older branches are hollow.
Flowers May–June, fragrant, in clusters from the leaf axils, tubular, 1-inch long, slender, distinctly two-lipped, with upper lip having 4 lobes, lower lip with 1 lobe. Petals change from white or pink to yellowish as they age.
Fruits mature in September to October; typically red berries about 1/4 inch across, 2-6 seeded, in pairs in the axils of the leaves.