Dwarf chestnut oak is a shrub or small tree, usually growing in multistemmed clumps or thickets.
Leaves are alternate, simple, leathery, 1½–4 inches long; margin wavy, widely toothed, with 4–8 teeth per side, a vein running to each tooth; upper surface green, shiny, smooth; lower surface much paler, velvety-hairy; turning red in autumn.
Bark is brownish-gray, smooth, with horizontal pores; developing into flat, scaly, checkered ridges with shallow furrows.
Twigs are reddish-brown and hairy, becoming gray and smooth.
Flowers April–May, in catkins.
Fruits September–October, acorns about ½ to ¾ inch long, egg-shaped, dark reddish-brown; cap enclosing a third of the acorn, grayish-brown, scales small, warty, densely hairy; nut sweet, edible, maturing the first season.
Similar species: Leaves are similar to those of chinkapin oak, but dwarf chestnut oak's are smaller (less than 4 inches long), with usually no more than 8 teeth per side and usually blunter teeth.