A large tree, exceptionally reaching a height of 45 m. It is deciduous but only for a short time in the year, except in very dry localities. It is a light-demander. It grows on a wide range of soil types, except in the very sandy, gravelly soils immediately adjoining rivers in the Bhabar Terai zone, where it is replaced by Dalbergia sissoo and Acacia catechu, and in waterlogged areas. It grows badly on stiff clays. It has been reported to avoid limestone areas, but this appears to be due to the dry soil often formed over limestone, as it grows quite well on soil containing limestone debris. The seedlings will tolerate some frost, but not annual heavy frosts such as occur in frost hollows. However in most of the S. robusta areas of Nepal frost is rare.
Seedlings exposed to unfavourable conditions, such as frost, drought and fire, frequently dieback. In nature many die completely, but in others the root remains alive and continues to send up new shoots each year, until eventually a very strong rootstock develops which produces a shoot which continues to grow and eventually forms a tree. This process may take 3-10 years. However this annual dieback is by no means universal, and under good conditions the seedlings will produce a shoot which will continue to grow without dying back.
This capability of the seedlings and young plants to shoot after having been cut back contributes to the remarkable ability of cut-over S. robusta forest to regenerate. On land which was previously S. robusta forest and cleared for cultivation, if the cultivation is abandoned after a few years, and the site is then protected against grazing, there will often be found, within a year, very numerous young S. robusta shoots of uniform height, arising from roots which have survived in the ground. This will not happen if the land has been cultivated too long, or heavy grazing takes place. This behaviour of the seedlings causes them to be considerably resistant to fire, as they may be burnt back annually for many years and shoot from the base annually, until eventually a stem is established. Older trees are also very resistant to fire. Young seedlings are very liable to damage by browsing, and in heavily grazed areas may be completely eliminated. Older S. robusta trees coppice well in most localities, but not if the stems are more than 20-30 cm in diameter. Coppicing should be completed before the onset of the hot season.
Shorea robusta is not usually severely affected by disease, but M. Karki (1992) records complete destruction of an area of forest at Hetauda by the root rot fungus, Polyporus shoreae.