Monarda species include annual and perennial herbaceous plants. They grow erect to heights of 20–90 cm (8–35 in). The slender, serrated, lanceolate leaves are oppositely arranged on the stem, hairless or sparsely hairy, and about 7 to 14 centimeters long.
The flowers are tubular and bilaterally symmetric, with a narrow upper lip and a wider lower lip. The wild flowers are single, but some cultivated forms have double flowers. They are hermaphroditic, with male and female structures in each flower. There are two stamens. Inflorescences occur at the top of the stem or emerge from the axils. They are typically crowded head-like clusters of flowers with leafy bracts. Flower color varies, with wild species bearing red, pink, and light purple flowers. M. didyma has bright carmine red flowers, M. fistulosa has pink, and M. citriodora and M. pectinata have pale purple. Hybrids occur in the wild, and they are common in cultivation. Seed collected from hybrids does not yield plants identical to the parent.