A small, multi-stemmed deciduous shrub or tree that normally grows to 2 to 5 m tall but is capable of growing up to 10 m in optimal environmental condition. Canopy is open and crown base is low. Stem is woody and spiny. Bark is dark grey in colour and smooth. Slender branches start out upright then droop gracefully and unpruned shrubs have a drooping or fountain- shaped habit. Leaves are simple, 2 to 8 cm long, oblong or obovate in shape, shiny, opposite in arrangement or arranged in whorls of five or six. Flowers are large, showy, trumpet shaped and borne singly or as many as five in a cluster at the tips of the branches. Flowers are characterized by the presence of thick, tubular, red-coloured calyx with five to eight pointed sepals forming a vase from which emerge the three to seven wrinkled, orange-red or white or variegated petals. Fruit is a globose berry and shiny, tough, leathery with reddish- or yellowish- coloured rind when matured and crowned at the base by persistent calyx. Fruit is divided into compartments by membranous walls and spongy tissue, filled with numerous seeds. Each seed is encased in a juicy, somewhat acidic, red, pink or whitish pulp. Seeds are angular, soft or hard, white or red in colour.
It grows on a variety of well-drained soils, ranging from deep acidic loam to alkaline calcareous soils. It is highly tolerant to drought and seasonal water logging. Its tolerance to soil salinity and aerosol salt is moderate. It is easily propagated by seeds and cuttings. Seeds readily germinate, if sown directly and seedlings grow vigorously. However, it is normally propagated by hardwood cuttings to avoid seedling variation. Hardwood cuttings 20 to 30 cm in height are planted for rooting in containers and they are kept in the nursery for 12 to 18 months before being transplanted to the field. It is slow growing and lopping, pruning and coppicing are the recommended management practices. Normally, seedlings are trained with a single stem up to 30 to 45 cm or as a bush with three to four main stems. Thinning should be done occasionally for good aeration and to avoid interception of sunlight.
Juicy seeds, which have sweet-sour and very pleasant taste, are eaten raw or made into juice, which is a very popular drink in the Maldives. It is also made into jellies and jams. In India, seeds are dried and used as a spice for vegetable dishes. It is also grown as an ornamental tree and there are several cultivars selected just for the showy and variegated flowers.