This is a common and widespread species of lowland Britain, found along the edges of woods, in hedgebanks and on heathlands. It does not have any particularly unique characters but can be recognised by the complete absence of glands, the large panicles of pure white flowers with broad petals and long stamens, and by the shining, almost glabrous stems with fierce yellow-coloured prickles.
Well-developed panicle growing in open situation:
Flowers are about 2.5-3cm in diameter. The stamens are relatively long. Styles are pale yellow/green.
The terminal leaflet is quite variable in shape. It can be widest below or above the middle, but is typically quite broad. Those in the panicle usually have a cuneate (narrowed) base. Leaves in full sun are often plicate, with the margins becoming undulate, causing the deeply serrate toothing to become more noticeable. The leaf apex is relatively short and broad.
Note the red stem with yellow prickles (see also below).
Leaves in heavy shade may only have 3-4 leaflets.
The uppermost youngest leaf on the taller-growing first-year stems has a characteristic appearance, with small leaflets giving a resemblance to R. ulmifolius.
The leaf underside is moderately felted, whitish-green in colour.
Stems are bright green and shining but may becoming reddish with age, especially when exposed to the sun, but often the long, stout prickles remain bright yellow. These may be straight and almost patent, or curved. Older stems are usually almost glabrous and glistening; younger ones may be sparsely hairy. Older stems are often sharply angled, but shade-grown ones may be almost round. In mid-season tall erect stems may be noticeable, extending out from the top of bushes to more than 2 metres. These bear characteristic smaller leaflets at the apex (see above).