This perennial plant is 3-8' tall and unbranched. The central stem is erect and unbranched, except near the apex where the inflorescence occurs. It is usually winged, with long white hairs between the ridges. On rare occasions, the central stem lacks wings. The alternate leaves are up to 10" long and 2½" across; they taper gradually to petiole-like bases. The leaves are elliptic or lanceolate in shape; their margins are smooth, slightly serrated, or sparsely dentate. The upper surface of the leaves is medium green or olive-green and its texture is rough. The lower surface of the leaves is light green with white hairs along the major veins.
The upper stem terminates in a dome-shaped panicle of flowerheads. These flowerheads have a daisy-like structure and a ragged appearance. Each flowerhead is about 1-2" across, consisting of numerous disk florets that are surrounded by 2-10 yellow ray florets. The corollas of the disk florets are greenish yellow and tubular in shape; they are conspicuous because of their size, projecting outward from the center of each flowerhead like a pincushion with thick needles. The petaloid rays are yellow and oblong in shape; they usually extend downward and outward. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early fall, lasting about 1-1½ months. Sometimes the flowerheads have a mild fragrance. The achenes are oval-shaped, flattened, and winged; each one has two short slender awns at its apex. They are distributed to some extent by the wind. The root system produces long rhizomes, often causing the formation of vegetative colonies.