The 3 to 8 large ray petals of ratibida columnifera
are usually yellow, but can also be dark red, especially as they mature. Some specimens have both colors. Like most asteraceae species they surround a center of small, narrow disc florets, but here the greenish-brown discs form an elongated column, nearly an inch wide and 2 inches tall, with individual florets maturing in stages, starting at the base. Ray florets are broad, well over an inch in length, and point downwards.
Plants produce several stems, branching from the base, each topped by a single flower. The leaves are also quite distinctive, deeply divided into narrow, well-separated lobes. Stem and leaves have a covering of short, bristly hairs. This species prefers open, sunny, dry locations, and can cover whole fields with hundreds of blooms.