Description from Flora of China
Herbs 9-70 cm tall, perennial. Stem solitary, 3-7 mm in diam., erect, branched, usually wingless. Lower stem leaves petiolate; leaf blade narrowly elliptic, oblong, or narrowly ovate, 4-20 × 0.7-6 cm, both surfaces green, sparsely pubescent or glabrous, and gland-dotted, base cuneate-attenuate, margin entire or obtusely sinuate-dentate, apex acute to obtuse. Middle and upper stem leaves shortly petiolate or sessile, elliptic to narrowly ovate, gradually smaller upward on stem, base cuneate and rarely auriculate. Capitula numerous, in a corymbiform or paniculiform synflorescence, pedunculate. Involucre narrowly campanulate to narrowly obconic, 0.8-1.2 cm in diam. Phyllaries in 4-6 rows, sparsely pubescent, sometimes gland-dotted; outer phyllaries ovate to narrowly ovate, 3-5 × 1-1.5 mm, apex blackish and acuminate or tricuspidate; middle and inner phyllaries narrowly elliptic to linear, 5-14 × 1-1.5 mm, appendage purple, orbicular, 0.5-1.5 mm wide, and membranous or rarely appendage lacking. Receptacle bristles 8-10 mm. Corolla pale purple, rarely white, 1.3-1.8 cm, gland-dotted, tube 8-10 mm, limb 5-7 mm, lobes 3-5 mm. Achene brown, cylindric, 3-3.5 mm, 4-ribbed. Pappus dirty white; outer bristles 1-5 mm; inner bristles 1.2-1.7 cm. Fl. and fr. Jul-Oct. 2n = 26.
The type of Saussurea tenuicaulis has the upper stem leaves with a widened auriculate base, a character not found in typical specimens of S. amara. Such plants may deserve separate taxonomic status.
Wastelands, by trails, forest steppes, steppes, saline and alkaline soils, dikes of streams, dunes, river and lake shores, sandy soils; 500-3200 m. Gansu, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Jilin, Liaoning, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Xinjiang [Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan; E Europe].