It is a shrub growing to 50–200 cm tall, with largely horizontal branching. The leaves are dark grey-green, dimorphic, with adult plants having mostly scale-like leaves 1–3 mm long, while young plants have mostly needle-like leaves 5–8 mm long, but needle-like leaves can also be found on shaded shoots of adult plants. The leaves are borne in whorls of three on strong stout main stem shoots, and opposite pairs on thinner, slower-growing shoots. It is dioecious, with male (pollen) and female (seed) cones on separate plants. The mature seed cones are ovoid, berry-like, 6–10 mm long, glossy black, and contain a single seed; the seeds are dispersed by birds which eat the cones, digest the fleshy cone pulp, and excrete the seeds in their droppings.