An irregularly shaped shrub or slender small tree up to 20 feet tall.
Leaves alternate, simple, 1–5 inches long, 1½-2½ inches wide, broadest at or above the middle; margin with blunt or rounded teeth; upper surface dark green; lower surface dark green, somewhat hairy.
Bark is reddish-brown to brown, with horizontal pores, with narrow grooves starting as a vertical row of dots and eventually opening to a narrow crack.
Twigs are reddish-brown to brown, hairy at first, smooth later, lender, flexible.
Flowering is in March–April. Flowers are in catkins, male and female on the same twig; petals are lacking. Male catkins in clusters of 2–5, cylindrical, drooping; female catkins in clusters of 2–3, green to purple.
Fruit develops September–October, about ¾ inch long, oval, shaped like a pinecone, having a cluster of woody bracts each below a nutlet.