Plant from a persistent protonemata. Female plants with scale-like ecostate leaves that are sparsely chlorophyllose during their early development with those leaves surrounding a cluster of archegonia without paraphyses. Male plants with a single antheridium borne on an inconspicuous thallus. Sporophyte large and conspicuous (to 15 mm tall) with capsule wall heavily chlorophyllose, and with the seta densely papillose. Capsule at an oblique angle to the seta, glossy red-brown at maturity with the length little more than twice the diameter, Capsule not at all radially symmetric but instead having a more or less planar dorsal face set off by a boundary ridge from the bulging ventral face. Operculum conic, somewhat persistent. Calyptra smooth and little larger than the operculum. Peristome present as a long hyaline tube at the mouth of the capsule. This hyaline tube has 16 pleats with papillosities on the ridges of that tube.
Of our three species of Buxbaumia, B. aphylla is our only one that grows preferentially on acid, highly organic soil especially on soil with a considerable growth of Cladonia. The large size of the sporophytes of Buxbaumia would seem to guarantee it being easily found within its range but several factors make it difficult to find. It should be noted that the capsules of Buxbaumia are so different in appearance from the images that bryologists look for that one can usually see Buxbaumia only when it is specifically looked for. Another factor contributing to the impression of scarcity is the short season of the visibility of the genus. In California Buxbaumia capsules are quickly reduced to the naked seta due to what we presume is mouse predation.