This native thistle is an annual or biennial herb known to reach three meters in height. The thick stem is hollow and may be nearly 10 centimeters wide at the base. It is coated in hairs and cobwebby fibers. The woolly, webby, spiny leaves are deeply cut into many lobes, the lobes often lined with teeth. The longest leaves near the base of the plant may be 70 centimeters long.
The inflorescence is a cluster of several flower heads each up to 3 centimeters long by 3 wide. The head is lined with spiny phyllaries and filled with pale pink or occasionally white flowers. The fruit is an achene with a flat, dark brown body about 5 millimeters long and topped with a pappus which may be 2 centimeters in length.
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