It is a deciduous tree growing to 20 to 35 m tall, with smooth, silver-gray bark. The leaves are dark green, simple and sparsely-toothed with small teeth that terminate each vein, 6 to 12 cm long, with a short petiole. The winter twigs are distinctive among North American trees, being long and slender (15 to 20 mm by 2 to 3 mm) with two rows of overlapping scales on the buds. Beech buds are distinctly thin and long, resembling cigars; this characteristic makes beech trees relatively easy to identify. The tree is monoecious, with flowers of both sexes on the same tree. The fruit is a small, sharply-angled nut, borne in pairs in a soft-spined, four-lobed husk. It has two means of reproduction: one is through the usual dispersal of seedlings, and the other is through root sprouts (new trees sprout from the roots in different locations).
Because the bark is very smooth, the tree is commonly used to carve initials or words, however this can potentially kill the tree since it can allow fungi or other pathogens to enter.
Found in mixed and deciduous forests as well as residential and urban areas. It is very common in Connecticut.