Gymnosporia heterophylla (previously known as Maytenus heterophylla) can either be a shrub or a small tree, with drooping branches, with long straight thorns. The bark on mature trees are greyish-brown and rough. The leaves are green and hairless and is usually clustered on very short branchlets in the axils of the spines or occasionally on green spines. Whitish flowers are clustered among the leaves and have a very stong, unpleasant scent. The fruit are 3-lobed greenish-yellow to greyish-brown capsules which are wrinkled when dry.
Gymnosporia heterophylla, with its spiky thorns, make a very effective, fast-growing security hedge. The wood is hard and durable, suitable for carving. The flowers however attract flies along with other pollinating insects with its scented flowers.