They are small to medium-sized deciduous trees typically growing 10–20 m tall, exceptionally to 27 m tall. The leaves are compound pinnate, with 5–17 alternately arranged leaflets. The flowers are fragrant, white or pink, produced in racemes or panicles 15–40 cm long. The fruit is a pod 3–8 cm long, containing one to six seeds.
Cladrastis is related to the genus Maackia, from which it differs in having the buds concealed in the leaf base, and in the leaflets being arranged alternately on the leaf rachis, not in opposite pairs. The genus name derives from the Greek klados, branch, and thraustos, fragile, referring to the brittle nature of the twigs.Species