Madia elegans is covered with short, stiff hairs. Glands are borne on stalks, especially near the flowers. The showy flower varies in appearance across subspecies and even within subspecies. Typically, it is a bright yellow daisy-like bloom with numerous thin ray flowers and several central disk flowers. It may be solid lemon yellow or have a center of a different color, from white to maroon. Several strongly scented, uncrowded, flower heads grow at the end of a slender green stem. The ray flowers curl up during the daytime, opening in the late afternoon and staying open all night until mid-morning. It flowers from April through early November. Its fruits are achenes which were historically used as food by Native Americans, including the Pomo and Miwok, who baked them or ground them into flour. The foliage exudes a fragrant oil, hence the common name of tarweed.