Trees , to 12 m; trunks short, often crooked, longitudinally or transversely fluted, crowns spreading. Bark gray, smooth to somewhat roughened. Wood whitish, extremely hard, heavy. Winter buds containing inflorescences squarish in cross section, somewhat divergent, 3--4 mm. Leaf blade ovate to elliptic, 3--12 × 3--6 cm, margins doubly serrate, teeth typically obtuse and evenly arranged, primary teeth often not much longer than secondary; surfaces abaxially slightly to moderately pubescent, especially on major veins, with or without conspicuous dark glands. Inflorescences: staminate inflorescences 2--6 cm; pistillate inflorescences 1--2.5 cm. Infructescences 2.5--12 cm; bracts relatively uncrowded, 2--3.5 × 1.4--2.8 cm, lobes narrow, elongate, apex nearly acute, obtuse, or rounded, central lobe (1--)2--3 cm.
Subspecies 2 (2 in the flora).
Carpinus caroliniana consists of two rather well-marked geographical races, treated here as subspecies. These hybridize or intergrade in a band extending from Long Island along the Atlantic coast through coastal Virginia and North Carolina, and then westward in northern South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Plants with intermediate features are also found throughout the highlands of Missouri and Arkansas. J. J. Furlow (1987b) has described the variation of this complex in detail.
Native Americans used Carpinus caroliniana medicinally to treat flux, navel yellowness, cloudy urine, Italian itch, consumption, diarrhea, and constipation, as an astringent, a tonic, and a wash, and to facilitate childbirth (D. E. Moerman 1986; no subspecies specified).