Among the most beautiful cacti; large plants with many stems in full flower make breathtaking mounds of scarlet. It is highly variable, often with two strikingly different forms growing in the same area.
A small barrel-shaped cactus. Few to several hundred stems in a compact hemispheric clump or mound. The stems are mainly cylindrical, up to one foot long and one to two and one-half inches thick, and with nine or ten ribs. The central spines are straight or slightly curved and one to two inches long. Smaller radial spines arise from below the central spines at a sharp angle.
The plants grow in gravelly soils in grasslands, shrublands, pinyon/juniper, or aspen communities. The plants often grow against a rocky outcrop or within the rocky outcrop. Plants occur from three thousand and twenty to seven thousand nine hundred and fifty feet in elevation.