This large shrub or small tree is 20-35' tall at maturity. It is has either a single or multiple trunks (usually the former) and a densely branched globoid crown. The trunk (or trunks) is relatively short, spanning 1-1½' across at maturity. Trunk bark is gray-brown, rough-textured, shallowly furrowed, and divided into irregular scaly plates. Branch bark is gray and more smooth, while twigs are brown with white lenticels. Young non-woody shoots are light green and pubescent. Relatively few thorns develop along the branches; they are 1-2' long, light gray to nearly black, and usually straight. Alternate deciduous leaves occur along the twigs and young shoots; they are 2-5' long and 2-4' across. Individual leaves are oval in outline and they are shallowly cleft with 3-5 lobes along both sides of their margins. The lobes are usually bluntly pointed, rather than rounded. The margins are serrated or doubly serrated. Leaf bases are slightly cordate to truncate. The upper leaf surface is medium or yellowish green and rough-textured from sparse stiff hairs; the lower surface is pale green and pubescent, especially along the lower sides of the veins. The slender petioles are ¾-2' long, light green to reddish green, and pubescent. At the base of each petiole, there is pair of linear-lanceolate stipules (up to ¼' long) that have serrated margins. Small corymbs of white flowers are produced from short spur twigs; these corymbs span about 1½-3' across and they are rather flat-headed. The flowering stalks of the corymbs are light to reddish green and pubescent. Individual flowers are about 1' across, consisting of 5 white spreading petals, 5 green sepals that are united at the base, 20 stamens with pale yellow anthers, and an inferior ovary with 4-5 styles. Individual sepals are narrowly lanceolate in shape; they have conspicuous glandular teeth. The blooming period occurs for about 2 weeks during late spring; the flowers have an unpleasant odor. Fertile flowers are replaced by small globoid pomes (apple-like fruits) that become ¾-1' across at maturity during late summer. Young pomes are light green and pubescent, while mature pomes are yellowish red to scarlet and hairless (or nearly so). The interior of each mature pome contains firm flesh that is pale yellow and slightly juicy; it has an apple-like sweet-tart flavor. Each pome also contains 4-5 chunky seeds. The root system is woody and branching. Downy Hawthorn spreads by reseeding itself.