Sea-buckthorn is a deciduous, dioecious shrub, usually spinescent, reaching 2 – 4 m in height. It has brown or black rough bark and a thick grayish-green crown. Leaves are alternate, narrow, and lanceolate with a silvergrey colour on the upper side.
The sex of seedlings cannot be ascertained until they start to flower. Flower buds are formed mostly on one-year old wood, differentiated during the previous growing season. The male inflorescence consists of four to six apetalous flowers. The female inflorescence usually consists of one single apetalous flower with one ovary and one ovule. The plant depends entirely on the wind for pollination, neither the male nor the female flower have nectaries, so do not attract insects.