It is a deciduous tree growing to 25 m tall with a trunk up to 70 cm diameter. The bark is brown, smooth on young trees, becoming scaly to shaggy on old trees. The are pinnate, 50–70 cm long and 30–40 cm broad, with 10–40 leaflets, the terminal leaflet usually absent but sometimes present; the individual leaflets 9–15 cm long and 2.5–4 cm broad, with an entire or weakly serrated margin. The flowers are produced in summer in panicles 30–50 cm long at the end of a branch; each flower is small, 4–5 mm diameter, with five white or pale pink petals. The fruit is a 2–3.5 cm long, containing several winged seeds.
Cultivation and uses
The young leaves are extensively used as a vegetable in China; they have an onion-like flavour. The fruit, bark, and roots are used in traditional Chinese medicine for a wide variety of conditions. Plants with red young leaves are considered of better flavour than those where the young leaves are green.
The timber is hard and reddish; it is valuable, used for furniture making. It is by far the most cold-tolerant species in the Meliaceae and the only member of the family that can be cultivated successfully in northern Europe.