has shorter spines than most other echinocereus species, and its stems are quite compact (at most 6 inches tall), reflecting its higher elevation range; in Arizona it grows in locations above 4,000 feet, in the east of the state, from grassland to mountain slopes over 6,500 feet. Plants have one long brownish central spine surrounded by 4 to 10 short but thick white radial spines, growing on ribs (between 8 and 13). The large, late spring flowers are pink, 2 to 4 inches across, while the fruits are red and spiny.
Echinocereus fendleri is quite variable in appearance across the wide range of environments and locations where it grows, but the only other similar species for most of this range is echinocereus triglochidiatus
, which is easily differentiated, having spines more uniform in length and color.