A shrub or small tree. Very ornamental in spring with small, clustered, rose-purple flowers covering the bare branches before the leaves.
Leaves simple, alternate, 2–6 inches long, 1¼–6 inches wide, oval to heart-shaped, tip pointed, base heart-shaped; upper surface dark green, smooth; lower surface paler and smooth with some hairs along veins and in vein axils; leaf stalk 1¼–5 inches long, smooth.
Bark is reddish brown to gray, thin and smooth when young. Older trees have long grooves and short, thin, blocky plates.
Twigs slender, smooth, brown to gray, often zigzag, pith white.
Blooms in late March to early May. Flowers small, 2–8 per cluster, on stalks ¼–¾ inch long; flowers 1/4–3/8 inch long, rose-purple, petals 5, in a typical pea-flower configuration.
Fruits pods 3–4 inches long, about ½ inch wide, tapering at the ends, leathery, reddish brown; seeds several, egg-shaped, flattened, 1/8–1/4 inch long. Pods often abundant, appearing September–October and persisting.