Rosette, typically unbranched herbs with somewhat succulent, strap-shaped leaves. In the wild, plants grow as epiphytes; however, terrestrial plants are found on or around tree falls suggesting that these ground-dwelling plants had been growing epiphytically. One species, Cochliostema odoratissimum, is a tank-epiphyte, resembling certain bromeliads in this respect. This species also attains the greatest size for the genus, with its leaves reaching to 1 m in length, and plants sometimes reaching 2 m in height.
Flowers are borne in large thyrses and are generally the largest (ca. 2.5 cm diam.), among the most fragrant, and arguably the most complex in the family. They consist of 3 sepals, 3 blue to blue-violet petals fringed with moniliform hairs, 3 stamens fused by their filaments in the upper half of the flower, and 3 carpels fused into a single trilocular pistil. The staminal structure consists of 3 stamens fused by their filaments and has 3 spirally coiled anthers enveloped and concealed by petaloid extensions of the filaments of the two lateral stamens contributing to the 3-staminate structure. These structures, termed "cuculli", are narrowed into two distal hose-like extensions.