A deciduous shrub 2 to 4 ft high, with slender, often erect branches, very hairy when young. Leaves alternate, linear-oblong, tapered at both ends, 2 to 4 in. long, 1⁄3 to 5⁄8 in. wide, the blade deeply cleft (almost to the midrib) into broad, oblique, rounded lobes, 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. wide; dark green, downy; stalk 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. long. Male catkins cylindrical, 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, 1⁄6 in. wide; closely set with downy, broadly triangular, long-pointed bracts. Female inflorescence globular, each ovary surrounded by eight awl-shaped, downy scales, which give the fruit-cluster a bur-like appearance. Nut egg-shaped, 1⁄5 in. long, shining.
Native of eastern N. America; introduced in 1714, and long a favourite in gardens because of its beautifully cut, fern-like leaves, and pleasant bay-like scent. It likes a peaty soil and objects to lime.
var. asplenifolia (L.) Fern. Myrica asplenifolia L. Comptonia asplenifolia (L.) Ait. – Branchlets only faintly downy; leaves smaller than in the type, almost glabrous. It is found in the coastal plain from Long Island to Virginia, while typical C. peregrina, in various degrees of downiness, is confined to the mountains. Probably most or all of the plants grown in gardens as Comptonia asplenifolia belong to typical C. peregrina, not to the variety.