It is a low-growing plant with shallow fibrous roots and a basal rosette of elliptical to lanceolate leaves 5–20 centimetres (2.0–7.9 in) long and 1–3 centimetres (0.39–1.18 in) broad. All parts of the plant exude a milky juice. The flowering stem is usually leafless or with just one or two small leaves. The stem and leaves are covered with short stiff hairs (trichomes), usually blackish in color. The stems may reach a height of 60 centimetres (24 in) and have 2–25 capitula (flowerheads), each 1–2+1⁄2 cm diameter, bundled together at the end of short pedicels. The flowers are orange, almost red, which is virtually invisible to bees, yet they also reflect ultraviolet light, increasing their conspicuousness to pollinators. The flowers are visited by various insects, including many species of bees, butterflies, pollinating flies. The flowers themselves come in a range of colors from a deep rust-orange to a pure yellow and often show striking gradients of color.
Invasive in North America and Australia.