This native perennial plant is 3-7' tall and usually unbranched. The central stem is light green and glabrous, except where the whorls of leaves of occur, where it is slightly swollen and purple. There are 3-4 leaves in each whorl along the stem. The leaves are about 6" long and 3½" across, or sometimes larger; they are broadly lanceolate or ovate and serrated along the margins. Each leaf is dull green and hairless on the upper surface; the lower surface is hairless or finely pubescent. The foliage may be vanilla-scented, although this varies with the local ecotype. The central stem terminates in one or more panicles of compound flowers that are bunched together; this inflorescence is usually more dome-shaped than flat-topped. Unlike the central stem, the stalks of the inflorescence are sometimes finely pubescent. Each compound flower consists of 5-8 disk florets and several overlapping series of bracts at its base. There are no ray florets. The corolla of each disk floret is whitish pink to purplish pink; it is tubular in shape and has 5 tiny teeth along its upper rim. A divided white style is strongly exerted from each disk floret. The floral bracts are pale pink and oblong. The blooming period occurs from mid-summer to early fall and lasts about a month. Each floret is replaced by a bullet-shaped achene with a small tuft of hair. These achenes are dispersed by the wind. The root system is shallow and fibrous.