is a succulent plant, lacking any hairs; the short, thick, unbranched stems bear fleshy, ovate leaves at alternate intervals all the way to just below the tip; they are green but often red at the apex and along the edges. Leaves usually become mostly or completely red late in the season. The tips of the leaves tend to curve upwards. The outer half of the edge of the leaf may be lined with small teeth.
Plants grow close together, sprouting from rhizomes, and forming dense colonies. The terminal, flat-topped flower cluster typically contains around 25 heads, or as many as 50, packed tightly together; they are dark red to purple in color, containing four (sometimes five) thick, pointed petals, a similar number of smaller, darker sepals, and twice as many purple stamens.
The related species rhodiola rhodantha
inhabits similar environments; this is a generally taller plant that has a more elongated flower cluster, colored lighter purple or pink.