Perennial c. (15–) 20–40 (–50) cm tall; rhizome thin, creeping to ascending; stolons usually absent. Stem erect, often rigid; basal leaves often numerous (few in shaded plants), flat to slightly canaliculate, up to 10–14 cm × 5–6 mm, densely hairy; leaf tip obtuse, swollen. Stem leaves 2–3 (–4), usually 8–13 cm × 3.0–4.5 mm, hairy; leaf tip obtuse. Lower bract herbaceous, c. 6 cm × 1 mm, erecto-patent, exceeding inflorescence, with obtuse tip; upper bracts gradually membranous; middle and upper cluster bracts membranous with long acute tip. Inflorescence erect, usually congested and forming an elongated dense head 2–3 (–5) × 0.7–1.0 cm, very often ±interrupted in lower part and lobulate, composed of 6 to many dense clusters of 8–20 flowers, lower cluster sometimes remote or on a long peduncle at the axil of the upper cauline leaf; peduncle smooth. Bracteoles 2.5–3.0 mm long, white-membranous, long fimbriate-ciliate (whole inflorescence has a hairy appearance). Tepals subequal, lanceolate, (2.4–) 2.8–3.2 mm long, entire or with a few teeth near the apex, acute; outer tepal long acuminate, castaneous brown, whitish bordered or unbordered. Stamens 6; anthers c. 0.6–0.9 mm long, slightly shorter or longer than 0.6–0.7 mm long filaments. Style 0.4–0.6 mm long; stigmas 1.5–2.5 mm long. Capsule ±obovoid, obtuse or very slightly subacuminate, castaneous brown, shorter than tepals; capsule segments 1.9–2.1 × 1.2–1.4 mm. Seeds ±ellipsoidal, castaneous brown, 0.9–1.1 mm long, 0.6–0.7 mm wide, with a broad whitish caruncle 0.10–0.15 mm long. 2n=24 [(Bie 66129, O.Hedberg 1216, herbarium label records; I.Hedberg & O.Hedberg, Bot. Not. 130: 11 (1977)].
Eastern part of Tropical Africa, from E Zaire and Rwanda to Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. 23: RWA, ZAI. 24: ETH. 25: KEN, TAN, UGA.
23. RWANDA: Muhavura, 3350 m, 20 Feb 1972, P.H.Auquier 2610 (AAU). 24. ETHIOPIA: Prov. Simien, Geech Plateau, 3650 m, Heinonen 1009 (UPS); Arussi Prov., Galama Mts, Boraluco, 3750 m, O.Hedberg 4180 (UPS); Shoa Prov., Mt Wuchacha, 19 Nov 1972, I.Friis et al. 1233 (C). 25. KENYA: Mt Kenya, NW slopes, 3100 m, 19 Aug 1948, O.Hedberg 1963 (S); Mt Elgon, 3400 m, 6 Jun 1920, Lindblom (S). TANZANIA: Morogoro, Uluguru Mtns, Lukwangule, 2400 m, 19 Feb 1933, Schliessen 3507 (S); Kilimanjaro, Peters Hut, 3800 m, O.Hedberg 1216 (UPS); Mt Meru, above Olkakola Estate, 3700 m, 1 Nov 1948, O.Hedberg 2427 (S). UGANDA: Ruwenzori, Bujuku Valley, near Bigo Camp, 3400 m, 22 Mar 1948, O.Hedberg 387 (S).
In mountain grasslands, on rocky slopes, and along paths.
A variable species. Small-flowered forms are sometimes found in populations. Plastic in size of vegetative parts (slender forms found in shady places).