Fraxinus pennsylvanica is a medium-sized deciduous tree reaching 12–25 m (39–82 ft) (rarely to 45 m or 148 ft) tall with a trunk up to 60 cm (24 in) in diameter. The bark is smooth and gray on young trees, becoming thick and fissured with age. The winter buds are reddish-brown, with a velvety texture. The leaves are 15–30 cm (6–12 in) long, pinnately compound with seven to nine (occasionally five or eleven) leaflets, these 5–15 cm (2–6 in) (rarely 18 cm or 7 in) long and 1.2–9 cm (1⁄2–3 9⁄16 in) broad, with serrated margins and short but distinct, downy petiolules a few millimeters long. They are green both above and below. The autumn color is golden-yellow and depending on the climate, Green Ash's leaves may begin changing color the first week of September. The flowers are produced in spring at the same time as the new leaves, in compact panicles; they are inconspicuous with no petals, and are wind-pollinated. The fruit is a samara 2.5–7.5 cm (1–3 in) long comprising a single seed 1.5–3 cm (5⁄8–1 1⁄8 in) long with an elongated apical wing 2–4 cm (3⁄4–1 1⁄2 in) long and 3–7 mm (1⁄8–9⁄32 in) broad.
It is sometimes divided into two varieties, Fraxinus pennsylvanica var. pennsylvanica (red ash) and Fraxinus pennsylvanica var. lanceolata (Borkh.) Sarg. (syn. var. subintegerrima (Vahl) Fern.; green ash) on the basis of the hairless leaves with narrower leaflets of the latter, but the two intergrade completely, and the distinction is no longer upheld by most botanists.