The plant is a deciduous shrub found in open forests and thickets all over North America. Its northern limit is around the Arctic Circle. The shrub reaches a height of 1–4 m (3–13 feet).
The common name of the plant in British Columbia is soopolallie, a word deriving from the historic Chinook Jargon trading language used in the North American Pacific Northwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The name is a composite of the Chinook words for soap (soop) and berry (olallie).