The shrub is very variable in shape, up to 1–4 m tall. The leaves are of two forms, juvenile needle-like leaves 5–10 mm long, and adult scale-leaves 1–2 mm long on slender shoots 0.8–1 mm thick. Juvenile leaves are found mainly on seedlings but mature shrubs sometimes continue to bear some juvenile leaves as well as adult, particularly on shaded shoots low in the crown. It is largely dioecious with separate male and female plants, but some individual plants produce both sexes. The cones are berry-like, 5–9 mm in diameter, blue-black with a whitish waxy bloom, and contain 1-3 (rarely 4 or 5) seeds; they are mature in about 18 months. The male cones are 2–4 mm long, and shed their pollen in early spring.