Like most salsifies, the western salsify grows as an annual or occasionally biennial forb, reaching a height of typically 20–60 cm but sometimes almost a metre. It grows typically in warm, sheltered spots with moist soil. Its yellow flower head is 4–6 cm in diameter and is likely to be seen in late spring or early summer. Buds are blue-green, tall, and tapered. The inflorescence opens early in the morning and often closes up by late afternoon. Later the plant forms a seed head that resembles that of the dandelions but is distinctly larger. The seeds themselves (known as achenes) are 2–4 cm long but featherweight, weighing about 8 mg each on average.