A medium to large tree with a rounded crown and slender, spreading branches.
Leaves simple, opposite, 4–7 inches long, broadly triangular, 5-lobed; lobes deep, narrow, pointed at the tip, middle lobe taking up more than ½ the length of the complete leaf, narrowed at the base, margins toothed, base of lobes (sinuses) V-shaped; upper surface of leaf pale green, undersurface silvery white (hence the name). Leaves turn yellow in autumn.
Bark smooth, light gray, later breaking into long, thin plates and ridges.
Twigs slender, brittle, shiny, reddish-brown, producing a disagreeable odor when bruised or broken; bud at tip is blunt.
Flowers January–April, in clusters, male and female flowers borne on the same tree, appearing before the leaves, lacking petals. This is the earliest of our maples to flower in the spring.
Fruits April–June, on slender, drooping stalks; samaras (winged seeds) reddish- to yellowish-brown, in pairs, each wing 1½–2 inches long; usually numerous.