Perennial with branching, winged stems. Flowerheads many, with 8–13 yellow ray florets fan-shaped, notched, reflexed downward. The large disk is brownish or purplish, dome-shaped to nearly spherical. Blooms June–November. Leaves, at flowering time, mostly on the middle parts of the stem and withered away on the lower parts; alternate, narrowly lance-shaped, with or without a few teeth; the leaf tissue extending down the stem as wings.
Similar species: Four species of Helenium grow in Missouri. The others are discussed elsewhere in this guide. All have rounded disks and yellow, fan-shaped, drooping ray flowers. This is the only one that has purplish or brownish disk florets.