Shrubs 1–2 m tall, deciduous; bark dark brown or grayish black, smooth; young branches green, glabrous, smooth, with conspicuous leaf scars. Leaf petiole 1–5(–6) cm; stipules threadlike, divided apically or rarely undivided; leaf blade abaxially light green, grayish white, or glaucous green, ovate, obovate-elliptic, ovate-rounded, rarely elliptic or ovate lanceolate, 3.5–9(–18) × 2–6(–8.5) cm, papery, glabrous, veins 5–7(or 8), conspicuous, raised abaxially, slightly impressed adaxially, base broadly cuneate or ± rounded, margin spiculate serrate to spiculate crenate, apex acuminate, rarely caudate-acuminate. Umbels between middle and lower 1/3 of midvein, rarely on upper part of young branches; staminate umbels 3–12(–18)-flowered; carpellate umbels 1–3-flowered. Flowers pedicellate. Petals light green, 1–5 mm. Carpellate flowers: style 3–5-divided. Fruit subglobose or ellipsoid, ca. 4–8 mm in diam., nearly sessile. Seeds 3–5, lobes 3–5. Fl. Apr–May, fr. Aug–Oct.
Forests, woods, thickets, valleys, slopes, streamsides, roadsides; 100–3400 m. Anhui, Fujian, SE Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, S Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Taiwan, Yunnan, Zhejiang [Bhutan, Japan, S Korea, N Myanmar].
Helwingia rusciflora Hemsley (J. Linn. Soc., Bot. 23: 341. 1888, not Willdenow, 1806) is based on a mixed collection, of which part is H. japonica var. japonica and part is var. hypoleuca.