The leaves are alternate, lobate, ovate to ovate-lanceolate with minute stipules. They are pubescent on both sides when young, but in a later stage they become glabrous.
The inflorescence consists of terminal plumes of small, creamy white bell-shaped fragrant flowers, branching from the base. The flowers are usually bisexual, with a solitary pistillate flower at the end of each major axis. The lateral cymes are staminate. There are five or six imbricate petals. The staminate flowers are mostly longer and thinner than the pistillate flowers, with 17-32 glabrous stamens in four whorls. The pistillate flowers have a superior ovary.
The fruits are rather large drupes with a fleshy exocarp and a thin, woody endocarp. They vary in shape, according to the numbers of developed locules. They contain oleiferous seeds. These seeds are poisonous.
The oil has been used as a paraffin, lubricant or as a constituent of varnish, paint or soap. It has also been used as baking oil, after removing the poisonous substances.
Some deciduous Chinese species are now classified under a separate genus Vernicia.
The name Aleurites is derived from a Greek word meaning "wheaten flour", because of the appearance of the lower surface of the leaf.