Juglans californica can be either a large shrub with 1-5 trunks, or a small, single-trunked tree. The main trunk can fork close to the ground, making it look like two trees that have grown together, then diverged. It has thick bark, deeply channeled or furrowed at maturity. It has large, pinnately compound leaves with 11-19 lanceolate leaflets with toothed margins and no hair in the vein angles. It has a small hard nut in a shallowly grooved, thick shell that is difficult to remove.