A tall tree with horizontal branches and a flat-topped crown. Young trees are pyramidal; older trees more oval.
Leaves alternate, simple, oval-elliptical and lack teeth. In summer they are shiny dark green above and downy below. Often crowded toward the tips of branches. Early color changers, they turn bright scarlet or purple in late summer, well before the first frost.
Bark gray to brown or black, deeply grooved, with ridges broken into irregularly shaped blocks with an “alligator hide” appearance.
Twigs slender, reddish-brown, slightly hairy at first, becoming gray and smooth later; some twigs short, pointed; pith white, with chambers.
Flowers April–June, as the leaves unfold. Male and female flowers greenish, in clusters on separate trees; petals 5, small.
Fruits September–October; plumlike, bluish-black with a whitish coating, about ½ inch long, egg-shaped, thin-fleshed, with a single seed or pit. Pit flattened, with 10-12 broad, rounded ribs.