Trees , to 12 m; trunks short, often crooked, longitudinally or transversely fluted, crowns spreading. Bark gray, smooth to somewhat roughened. Wood whitish, extremely hard, heavy. Winter buds containing inflorescences squarish in cross section, somewhat divergent, 3--4 mm. Leaf blade ovate to elliptic, 3--12 × 3--6 cm, margins doubly serrate, teeth typically obtuse and evenly arranged, primary teeth often not much longer than secondary; surfaces abaxially slightly to moderately pubescent, especially on major veins, with or without conspicuous dark glands. Inflorescences: staminate inflorescences 2--6 cm; pistillate inflorescences 1--2.5 cm. Infructescences 2.5--12 cm; bracts relatively uncrowded, 2--3.5 × 1.4--2.8 cm, lobes narrow, elongate, apex nearly acute, obtuse, or rounded, central lobe (1--)2--3 cm.
"Tall shrub or small tree to 10 m, with flattened trunk and smooth, muscular-looking, blue-gray or ashy-gray bark; lvs oblong to oblong-ovate, 5–12 cm, acute or shortly acuminate, sharply and often doubly serrate; fruiting catkins ovoid to short-cylindric, 2–5 cm, the bracts (1.5–)2–3(–4) cm, halberd-shaped, with 1 or 2 divergent basal lobes, entire or with a few coarse teeth especially along one side of the middle lobe. Moist woods; N.S. to Minn., s. to Fla. and Tex. Most of our plants belong to the var. virginiana (Marshall) Fernald, with the lvs beset with conspicuous dark glands beneath. Along the s. margin of our range this passes into var. caroliniana of se. U.S., lacking the dark glands of the often smaller and less toothed lvs, and with blunter, less toothed bracts."