A shrub, often sending up sprouts from the base, or (less commonly) a small tree (especially in cultivation).
Leaves alternate, simple, 2–5 inches long, inverted egg-shaped to oval, tip blunt or rounded, base wedge-shaped to rounded, uneven; edges wavy to almost lobed above the middle; dark green above, with veins lying below the surface, paler below, with veins prominent.
Bark tight, not peeling; gray to brown, often with gray blotches, pores narrow, cream-colored.
Twigs rather stout, light brown to reddish-brown or gray, densely velvety-hairy, later smooth and light or dark gray.
Flowers January–April, clustered or solitary, fragrant; petals 4, yellow to dark red, narrow, ribbonlike or straplike.
Fruits September–October; a hard, woody, elliptical capsule ½ inch long, splitting down a 2-parted tip/ending in 4 sharp, curved points. Capsule pops open, forcibly discharging seeds to a distance of up to 30 feet. Seeds large, hard, black, 1 or 2 per capsule.