Branched, very densely spiny, shrub-like succulent, up to c. 1.5 m. Segmented cylindric cladodes, up to 30 cm long, almost hidden by dense cover of clustered straight white barbed spines. Flowers borne near the apices of cladode branches, bright pink and white, showy; petals reflexed. Fruit yellow, berry-like, forming chains in older plants.
Cladode segments break off easily and attach themselves to the skin of goats and cattle through the barbed spines, which also painfully penetrate and irritate skin. Once segments fall off, they easily take root and grow, thus spreading the plants. In some places, the species is highly invasive and is locally abundant. Probably introduced as an ornamental and hedge plant into South Africa and now has become naturalised in some dry communal areas in the south of the country.