The latin species name for staghorn cholla
(versicolor) reflects the wide range of colors of its long-lasting flowers, which are produced in spring and early summer; they may be red, yellow, purple or intermediate shades. The cactus adopts a typical upright, branched form, with slender, green or purple stems up to 7 inches long, covered with elongated tubercles bearing clusters of 6 to 8 light-colored spines, usually with 1 or 2 much shorter, bristle-like spines.
The spines are variable in length but all are short - not more than 0.7 inches, and the neat clusters are quite widely separated so that the spines do not overlap, which is one way to distinguish the staghorn cholla from the similar buckhorn cholla
(a slightly wider-stemmed species occupying the same range), for here the spines are longer and thicker, and adjacent clusters do overlap. Another is the fruit; although both are the same color (green) that of the buckhorn is spiny and somewhat knobbly, whereas staghorn's is smooth, rounded, spineless, and remains on the plant a lot longer, sometimes forming short chains. The fruits are often bright red to purple; they have between 20 and 30 areoles, and only very shallow tubercles.
Staghorn cholla is found over a small area of south Arizona, centered on Tucson, and extending south into Mexico