This is a common species, widely distributed over lowland Britain, Ireland and northern Europe. It is mostly associated with calcareous soils and clay, but is occasionally found on the edges of heathlands and woodland on acid soils. It can grow in open or semi-shaded conditions and is fairly resistant to frequent cutting back and browsing, so is often one of the main components of scrub on managed chalk downland. It is a typical member of the Vestiti, having densely pubescent stems with inconspicuous short-stalked glands, especially in the inflorescence. It comes in white and
red (i.e. pink) flowered colour forms. Sterile hybrids with R. ulmifolius are common.
Note the rather elongated inflorescence with short, stout branches, all covered with dense pubescence and with long, fine declining prickles.
Flowers are relatively large, about 2.5-3cm across, with broadly elliptical, rounded petals. The stamens are longer than the styles and on deeper pink flowers may also be pink at the base of the filaments. The styles can be pale green or pinkish-red at the base. Edees & Newton state that the sepals are short-pointed and reflexed (after petal fall) but the photos here show that some are relatively long-pointed and patent (sticking out) during and after flowering, only becoming reflexed later in fruit.
The first image below shows the typical deep pink colour of the red-flowered form. The second photo is from a red-flowered plant that has faded slightly and the bottom two are from white-flowered plants (at least some white-flowered plants have petals pale pink in bud).
Leaves are relatively soft and thick in texture due to the presence of short hairs above and a layer of whitish or grey felting below. The terminal leaflet is a little longer than wide, but can be almost round in shape, and has a short triangular apex.
The two photos below show the terminal leaflet undersides of the leaves pictured above. The first shows the typical whitish-grey felting. The next shows an older leaf growing near the ground in semi-shade which is less distinctly felted.
Stems are robust, becoming deep purple in colour in the sun. Prickles are moderately dense, long but fairly slender, patent to slightly declining and confined to the angles. Note the dense white hairs on the stems.