Deciduous broadleaf tree with broad, rounded crown. Leaves opposite, deeply 5-lobed, shiny green above, paler and hairy below, yellow in fall with small lobes and teeth on margins. Flowers yellow, drooping inflor at twig ends. Fruit a brown, double samara, with stiff yellow hairs. Bark dark gray and furrowed. Found in moist places.
It most commonly grows as a large shrub growing to around 5-8 m tall, but it will occasionally form a small to medium-sized tree, exceptionally to 18 m tall. The shoots are slender and hairless. It typically grows in the understory below much taller forest trees, but can sometimes be found in open ground, and occurs at altitudes from sea level up to 1,500 m.
The leaves are opposite, and palmately lobed with 7-11 lobes, almost circular in outline, 3-14 cm long and broad, and thinly hairy on the underside; the lobes are pointed and with coarsely toothed margins. The leaves turn bright yellow to orange-red in fall. The flowers are small, 6–9 mm diameter, with a dark red calyx and five short greenish-yellow petals; they are produced in open corymbs of 4-20 together in spring. The fruit is a two-seeded samara, each seed 8-10 mm diameter, with a lateral wing 2–4 cm long.
Vine Maple trees can bend over easily. Sometimes, this can cause the top of the tree to grow into the ground and send out a new root system, creating a natural arch.