This relatively rare echinocereus has sharp, yellow-white spines, up to 3 inches long, and forms medium-sized clumps, containing around 30 branches. Distribution is limited to mid elevation regions of the Sonoran Desert in far south Arizona; Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
is one favored location. The species resembles echinocereus engelmannii
(and is sometimes considered a variant rather than a separate species), which also occurs in this area, but has generally lighter, more evenly-colored spines, and paler flowers. Also, the fruits are green or brownish, while those of Engelmann's hedgehog are red.
Central spines of echinocereus nicholii number 4 to 8, surrounded by 13 to 16 shorter but still yellow radials. One of the central spines is noticeably paler than the others.