The ligulate flowerheads of malacothrix coulteri
tend to be yellow at the center, where the florets are shorter, and white to pale cream around the edge; here the florets are longer, up to one inch. Florets have a wide purple stripe underneath. The hairless phyllaries (usually between 40 and 60) are broadly ovate in shape and overlapping, in several rows. They have dark red to purple midstripes and wide, thin, partly translucent margins. Flowerheads are produced in small numbers, at the end of branches along the upper portion of the stem.
Plants have up to six stems, which are greyish-green in color, and hairless, growing upwards or at an angle. Leaves are hairless and quite thick, especially around the base, where they are ovate or lanceolate in shape, and lined by a few wavy lobes; those along the stem often have a few sharp teeth, or (less often) pinnate lobes.