The European spindle is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 2 or 3 metres tall. The young twigs are green and become four-angled after the first year, developing pale brown cork ribs along the angles. The leaves vary from oval to lance shaped with finely toothed edges and pointed tips. From shining blue-green they fade in autumn to yellow, russet and crimson. The flowers have yellowish-green petals and grow in loose clusters. The four-lobed seed pod turns vivid pink in October and splits open to reveal seeds coated in orange pulp.
The spindle is native to Europe and Western Asia. It grows on chalk downs and lime-rich soils.