It is a
semi-evergreen or deciduous shrub, growing to 3 m (rarely up to 5 m) tall. The
stems are stiff, erect, with grey-brown bark spotted with small brown lenticels.
The leaves are borne in decussate opposite pairs, sub-shiny green, narrow oval
to lanceolate, 2–6 cm long and 0.5–1.5 cm broad. The flowers are produced in mid
summer in panicles 3-6 cm long, each flower creamy-white, with a tubular base
and a four-lobed corolla ('petals') 4–6 mm diameter. The flowers produce a
strong, sweet fragrance that many people find unpleasant. The fruit is a small
glossy black berry 6–8 mm diameter, containing one to four seeds. The berries
are poisonous to humans but readily eaten by thrushes, which disperse the seeds
in their droppings.