An evergreen shrub or small tree up to 15 or even 30 ft high; young branchlets and flower-stalks minutely downy. Leaves variable in size and shape, ovate or elliptic-ovate to lanceolate or elliptic-lanceolate, 1⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. long, 3⁄8 to 11⁄2 in. wide, more or less dentate to serrate, serrulate, or entire, pointed at the apex, broadly tapered, rounded, or slightly heart-shaped at the base. Flowers dull greenish white, in short axillary clusters. Fruits blue-black, roundish or orange-shaped, 1⁄4 to 3⁄8 in. long.
Native of the Mediterranean regions of S. Europe, N. Africa, and Asia Minor; cultivated in Britain since the 16th century.
f. spinosa (Mill.) Rehd. P. spinosa Mill.; P. latifolia var. ilicifolia DC. – A form with strongly toothed leaves, 1 to 11⁄2 in. long, ovate and rounded at the base.
Two species, P. latifolia L. and P. media L., were recognised in the past but it is generally agreed that specific separation within this variable entity is not possible. Some plants previously named P. media represent the adult stage of P. latifolia. Numerous forms have been described under P. media and that known as f. buxifolia (Ait.) Schelle has small, almost entire leaves.