Because of the wide range of habitats and elevations where it grows, eriogonum umbellatum
is quite variable in appearance, and the small flowers also change somewhat during the different stages of blooming. The inflorescence takes the form of an umbel with several spherical clusters, at the tip of a greenish-red stalk; clusters are composed of many tiny, bulbous flower heads joined by very thin stems, reddish in color.
Flowers hang down at first but point upwards as they open fully, to reveal protruding stamens. The flowers tend to be bright yellow at this stage but become orange or even red as they age. Small, green, hairy bracts radiate from the stem underneath the flower cluster. Leaves often turn red late in the season. Over 30 varieties are recognized, differing in such characteristics as leaf shape, bract arrangement, degree of hairiness and flower colors, making this one of the most complex plant species in the US.