The breadfruit tree is handsome and fast growing, reaching 85 ft (26 m) in height, often with a clear trunk to 20 ft (6 m) becoming 2 to 6 ft (0.6-1.8 m) in width and often buttressed at the base, though some varieties may never exceed 1/4 or 1/2 of these dimensions. There are many spreading branches, some thick with lateral foliage-bearing branchlets, others long and slender with foliage clustered only at their tips.
The leaves, evergreen or deciduous depending on climatic conditions, on thick, yellow petioles to 1 1/2 in (3.8 cm) long, are ovate, 9 to 36 in (22.8-90 cm) long, 8 to 20 in (20-50 cm) wide, entire at the base, then more or less deeply cut into 5 to 11 pointed lobes. They are bright green and glossy on the upper surface, with conspicuous yellow veins; dull, yellowish and coated with minute, stiff hairs on the underside.
The tree bears a multitude of tiny flowers, the male densely set on a drooping, cylindrical or club-shaped spike 5 to 12 in (12.5-30 cm) long and 1 to 1 1/2 in (2.5-3.75 cm) thick, yellowish at first and becoming brown. The female are massed in a somewhat rounded or elliptic, green, prickly head, 2 1/2 in (6.35 cm) long and 1 1/2 in (3.8 cm) across, which develops into the compound fruit (or syncarp), oblong, cylindrical, ovoid, rounded or pear shaped, 3 1/2 to 18 in (9-45 cm) in length and 2 to 12 in (5-30 cm) in diameter. The thin rind is patterned with irregular, 4- to 6-sided faces, in some "smooth" fruits level with the surface, in others conical; in some, there may rise from the center of each face a sharp, black point, or a green, pliable spine to 1/8 in (3 mm) long or longer. Some fruits may have a harsh, sandpaper-like rind. Generally the rind is green at first, turning yellowish-green, yellow or yellow-brown when ripe, though one variety is lavender.