It is a deciduous tree native to central North America. It can reach a height of 66 to 100 ft, with fast growth, and are relatively short-lived; their life spans are typically about 120 years. The leaves are pinnately compound on older trees but bipinnately compound on vigorous young trees. The leaflets are 1.5 to 2.5 cm (smaller on bipinnate leaves) and bright green. They turn yellow in the fall. Leafs out relatively late in spring. The strongly scented cream-colored flowers appear in late spring, in clusters emerging from the base of the leaf axils. The fruit of the Honey locust is a flat legume (pod) that matures in early autumn. The pods are generally between 15 to 20 cm. Honey locusts commonly have thorns 3 to 10 cm long growing out of the branches, some reaching lengths over 20 cm; these may be single, or branched into several points, and commonly form dense clusters. The thorns are fairly soft and green when young, harden and turn red as they age, then fade to ash grey and turn brittle when mature. Thornless forms are occasionally found growing wild and are available as nursery plants.
Its cultivars are popular ornamental plants. It tolerates urban conditions, compacted soil, road salt, alkaline soil, heat and drought.