The main range of this species is south-west England and Wales, extending west to parts of south-eastern Ireland and east to Sussex, with scattered records for Kent and Norfolk, and one in Scotland. It also occurs in western France. Its most distinctive features are the white or pale pink widely separated petals with green sepals showing between, the coarsely toothed narrow leaves and the densely prickly, hairy stem.
It is generally a low-growing species, forming ground cover in shady woodland, or low to medium-sized sprawling patches and bushes in open situations. It is an early flowerer. The inflorescences are broad and fairly compact, not extending too far out from the leaves, so from a distance the numerous clusters of flowers with their
gappy petals can be quite distinctive.
Flowers are about 2.5-3cm diameter. Petals are up to about 11-13mm long, obovate in shape, with a visibly narrow base; the apex is usually notched or irregularly toothed at the tip. Stamens are longer than the styles. The finely-pointed sepals have numerous short-stalked glands and some small acicles amongst the whitish pubescence. Sepals are patent when the flower is freshly open, so are visible between the petals and add to the distinctive appearance of the flower. They later become reflexed with the tip curled upwards.
The rachis is densely hairy with frequent curved prickles. Short-stalked glands are present but are usually easiest to find on the pedicels of the flowers.
Leaflets are sharply, deeply and irregularly serrate and the toothing is accentuated by the undulate leaf margin. Veins are usually quite prominent. The terminal leaflet is relatively narrow, about 8 x 5cm with a short petiolule (stalk) – typically only a quarter its length. The leaf tip is relatively well-pronounced, up to 2cm long. Leaf colour is often yellow-green.
Note also the prickly stem, with some distinctly curved prickles (and see below).
Leaflet undersides are yellowish or greyish felted.
The stem is often stout, with densely arranged patent, declining and curved prickles, numerous short hairs and usually some short-stalked glands. There are shorter prickles (pricklets) on the faces in addition to the long main prickles on the angles. Due to the grey-felted leaflets and inconspicuous glands this species can be mistaken for a member of series Rhamnifolii if the pricklets are missed. Prickles often stay yellow in colour, though in these photos the middle of each one is starting to turn a reddish-brown colour. Likewise, the stem either remains green or starts to take on a reddish tinge, but never turns completely red. These two photographs were taken of the same bush, and are probably typical, but the ridges on the stem in the second photo are not usually as pronounced as this.