A large shrub or small tree native to eastern North America from Southern Ontario. It typically grows to 6 to 9 m tall with an 8 to 10 m spread. It generally has a short, often twisted trunk and spreading branches. A 10-year-old tree will generally be around 5 m tall. The bark is dark in color, smooth, later scaly with ridges somewhat apparent, sometimes with maroon patches. The twigs are slender and zigzag, nearly black in color, spotted with lighter lenticels. The winter buds are tiny, rounded and dark red to chestnut in color. The leaves are alternate, simple, and heart shaped with an entire margin, 7 to 12 cm long and wide, thin and papery, and may be slightly hairy below. The flowers are showy, light to dark magenta pink in color, 1.5 cm long, appearing in clusters from Spring to early Summer, on bare stems before the leaves, sometimes on the trunk itself. The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees such as blueberry bees and carpenter bees. Short-tongued bees apparently cannot reach the nectaries. The fruit are flattened, dry, brown, pea-like pods, 5 to 10 cm long that contain flat, elliptical, brown seeds 6 mm long, maturing in August to October.
Commonly grown in parks and gardens, with several cultivars being available.