This native perennial plant is usually unbranched and up to 4' tall. The smooth central stem can be green or reddish. The alternate leaves are up to 6" long and 1½" wide, becoming slightly smaller as they ascend up the stem. They are lanceolate or narrowly ovate, with smooth margins, and largely devoid of hairs. In the upper half of the plant, there are small leaves that develop from the upper axils of the primary leaves; they have a wing-like appearance. The showy inflorescence is up to 1' long, consisting of an erect panicle of small yellow compound flowers. The flowering stems don't flare outward and downward like many other goldenrods, but are held erect or curve upward. Each compound flower is about ¼" across, consisting of 4-10 ray florets surrounding the disk florets. The spacing of the ray florets tends to be irregular, and they may not open at the same time. These flowers occasionally have a mild fragrance. The blooming period occurs during late summer or early fall, and lasts about a month. Later, the achenes develop small tufts of hairs, and are dispersed by the wind. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous, occasionally forming vegetative offsets. In older mature plants, a woody caudex develops.