A deciduous shrub 6 to 12 ft high, of erect habit; young shoots minutely downy, dull dark green. Leaves ovate, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, 3⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. wide; tapered and rounded at the base, slender-pointed, furnished, especially when young, with pale scattered hairs on both surfaces, which are longer beneath than above; veins in three or four, sometimes five pairs; stalks 1⁄8 to 1⁄2 in. long. Flowers dull white, with a heavy odour, produced densely during June in downy cymes 11⁄2 to 2 in. across; sepals and flower-stalks downy; petals about 1⁄4 in. long. Fruit globose, purplish black, shining, 1⁄4 in. wide, with a bitter taste.
Native of Europe, including the south of England, where it is abundant in some localities. It is a shrub of undistinguished character, its chief value being in the fine autumnal red of its leaves. The specific name applies to this and not to the young bark, which has nothing more than an occasional dark red tinge on the exposed side. The wood is tough and hard, and is used for making butchers’ skewers and such like.
f. viridissima (Dieck) Schelle – Young stems green, remaining so the first winter; occurs wild with the type.
Variegated forms have been known since the eighteenth century, but none is of any garden value.