Herbs 4-10 cm tall, perennial, stemless or shortly stemmed. Caudex 1-1.5 cm in diam., usually much branched, with many sterile and flowering leaf rosettes forming large cushions, densely covered with persistent withered leaves. Rosette leaves sessile, linear, 2-7 × 0.1-0.2(-0.3) cm, abaxially grayish white and densely tomentose-sericeous, adaxially green to dark brown, shiny, and glabrous, base enlarged, sheathing, and white villous, margin entire and revolute, apex acute. Uppermost leaves merging into phyllaries. Capitulum solitary, in center of leaf rosette or terminal on stem, sessile. Involucre campanulate, 2-3 cm in diam. Phyllaries in ca. 5 rows, apex acuminate to caudate; outer phyllaries narrowly ovate-triangular, 10-16 × 3-4 mm, basal part blackish purple, apical part greenish or brown, shiny, glabrous, and reflexed; middle and inner phyllaries narrowly ovate-triangular to narrowly elliptic-linear, 11-15 × 2-4 mm, basal part pale yellow, apical part blackish purple, villous, and erect. Receptacle bristles 7-8 mm. Corolla purplish red, 1.3-1.5 cm, tube 7-8 mm, limb 6-7 mm, lobes 3.5-4 mm. Achene dark brown, conic, ca. 3 mm, glabrous. Pappus in 2 rows; outer bristles white, 2-4 mm, scabrid; inner bristles pale brown, 9-10 mm. Fl. and fr. Aug-Oct.
Alpine meadows, rocky mountain slopes; 3000-4700 m. SW Sichuan, SE Xizang (Zayü), NW Yunnan [Bhutan].
The record of Saussurea columnaris in Bhutan (see Grierson & Springate, Fl. Bhutan 2(3): 1441. 2001) is now confirmed by more recent collections.