Many senecio look similar, and senecio scorzonella
is one of the harder species to identify as it is equally common with and without ray florets. Plants are relatively low-growing, between 5 and 15 inches tall, and found in dry locations at medium to high elevations, in north California; the Cascade Range, the northern Sierra Nevada and plateaus to the east.
Stems, leaves and phyllaries have a light, uneven covering of tomentose hairs. Leaves taper at the base to a short, winged petiole, and their edges are lined by small, irregular teeth. Flowerheads have zero or around five ray florets, 10 to 20 disc florets and about 13 main phyllaries, fused for most of their length, and black-tipped. There are also a few much smaller lower phyllaries, also with black tips. The ray florets are less than a third of an inch long. Stems are usually single, but the plant may form small clumps. Flowerheads are produced in flat-topped (corymbiform) clusters, of 10 to 20 or more.