Full sun to partial shade, naturally occurs in dry woodland understory. Best in slightly acid soil that is moist, fertile and well-drained, can tolerate dry gravelly soils in partial shade once established. Difficult to transplant and slow to establish. Not tolerant of salt.
The ironwood tree is a small deciduous understory tree growing to 18 m (59 ft) tall and 20–50 centimetres (8–20 in) trunk diameter. The bark is brown to gray-brown, with narrow shaggy plates flaking off, while younger twigs and branches are smoother and gray, with small lenticels. Very young twigs are sparsely fuzzy to thickly hairy; the hairs (trichomes) drop off by the next year. It is grown as an ornamental plant and is sometimes used as a street tree.