A perennial legume with one or few stems from a common base, and flowers blooming from a cylindrical flowering head. Blooms June-September. Flowers grow at stalk tips in tight, rounded to cylindrical heads. Individual florets have only 1 true petal; the other petal-like structures are actually modified stamens. Flower color is rose-magenta to rose-purple. The buds are covered by silvery hair, and flowers open in a circle around the flower head from the bottom upward. Leaves are finely cut in 3–5 divisions. The leaflets grow opposite each other from the midrib, with the final one at the tip. At the base of the leaves grow narrow bracts (leaflike structures).
Similar species: White prairie clover (D. candida) is much like purple prairie clover, only the blossoms are white.