The spindle can grow to 9 metres tall and can live for 100 years but is most often found as a bush or small tree in a hedgerow or area of scrub. The bark and thin straight twigs are a deep green that darkens with age and the bark has cork like markings. New growth is round in cross section, it then becomes square and returns to round as it matures.
The shiny green leaves are oval and feel slightly waxy, they have short stems and sharp teeth on the edges. In the autumn they turn orangey red. Spindle can be confused with dogwood (cornus sanguinea) when it is in leaf.
The four petal flowers are a greenish white but it is the fruit and seed cases of this tree that are distinctive. The fruits are popcorn shaped and bright pink opening to show bright orange seeds, these stay on the tree through the winter.