Blue-bead lilies are small (5–10 in) perennial plants, usually found in homogeneous colonies. At full growth, a shoot has 2–4 clasping and curved, slightly succulent leaves with parallel venation. The flowers are arranged in small umbels at the extremity of a long stalk. They have 6 stamens and 3 identical sepals and petals (tepals). In rare cases more than one umbel is found on a shoot or shoots from a clone. The fruits are small dark blue, lurid berries. A white-berried form (f. albicarpa) also exists.
The plant is native to the boreal forest in eastern North America, but is also found in other coniferous or mixed forests and in cool temperate maple forests. It is not found in open spaces, and only grows in the shade.
The plant reproduces via seed or vegetatively by rhizomes. Flowering in May and June, it takes over a dozen years for a clone to establish and produce its first flower, 2 years of which are dedicated solely to germination. The rhizome starts to mold after approximatively 15 years, but a colony often covers several hundred m². Few specimens establish new colonies.
Blue-bead lily is extremely slow to spread, but established clones can usually survive many later modifications, as long as sunlight remains limited. Whereas crossed pollination is more efficient in producing seeds, self-pollination will still produce seeds, allowing the plant to propagate.
The fruits' toxicity hasn't been confirmed.
Culture is difficult, due to the need to avoid direct sunlight and the difficulty posed by germination. Transplanting is not recommended.
Hunters in North Quebec were said to have rubbed their traps with the roots because bears are attracted to its odor.