In central and mid-west America this tree is found especially in swampy grounds, but can also be found in drier areas. The loose, open crown has a capriciously growing central leader. The bark is grey and has shallow fissures. In America it is an important timber producer. Trunk and branches have sharp, branched spines. The spineless variety f. inermis is a much appreciated alternative. The large, compound leaf unfolds late and turns to golden yellow in autumn. The individual leaflets are circa 3 cm in size. After the flowering the pods appear and they can grow as large as 45 cm. They are crescent-shaped, flat and usually slightly twisted. At first they are yellow green, later brown red, persisting well into winter. The tree has deep going roots with many rootlets. Tolerates hard surfacing well.
Gleditsia triacanthos has dangerously sharp branched thorns both on branches and on trunk.
Nowadays thornless cultivars can be obtained.