It grows up to 15–20 m tall, with a trunk up to 50 cm in diameter, characterized by numerous slender, black, viciously sharp 10 cm long spines jutting out from the trunk. The leaves are pinnate, 3–4 m long, with numerous slender, 50–100 cm long leaflets. Petioles of the leaves are also covered with spines. The flowers are small, produced on a large branched inflorescence 1.5 m long. The fruit is a yellowish-green drupe 2.5–5 cm in diameter. The inner fruit shell, also called endocarp, is very tough to break and contains usually one single, dark brown, nut-like seed 1–2 cm in diameter. The inside of the seed, also called endosperm, is a dry white filling that has a vaguely sweet taste like coconut when eaten.