This is an annual herb usually growing up to 2 m (6 ft 7 in) tall, but known to reach over 6 m (20 ft) in rich, moist soils. The tough stems have woody bases and are branching or unbranched. Most leaves are oppositely arranged. The blades are variable in shape, sometimes palmate with five lobes, and often with toothed edges. The largest can be over 25 cm (9.8 in) long by 20 cm (7.9 in) wide. They are borne on petioles several centimeters long. They are glandular and rough in texture. The species is monoecious, with plants bearing inflorescences containing both pistillate and staminate flowers. The former are clustered at the base of the spike and the latter grow at the end. The fruit is a bur a few millimeters long tipped with several tiny spines.