This tree is often identified by its smooth, gray bark which resembles the muscles in a well defined human arm or leg. The leaves are double-toothed, with prominent veins that go straight to the leaf margins (do not branch or fork). Flowers appear at the same time as the leaves. The flowers develop in long clusters called catkins and are yellowish-green in color. The fruit in the fall look like little paper lanterns and each fruit contains a small nut. Fall color is orange and red.
This tree gets one of its common names, Ironwood, from the fact that its wood is so hard. It is often used to make the handles on tools, levers and wedges. The leaves of this tree are an important food source for some species of caterpillar.