Foliage of the white rhatany is gray and thorn-tipped. The sepals that enclose the lower part of a flower are generally green, but in this case are red-violet. The flowers are purple and bloom from April to May. This shrub is found below 5250 feet (1600 m).
Unlike most desert shrubs, white rhatany is parasitic. It attaches itself to the roots of other plants and pirates water and other nutrients. The flowers have been modified to offer neither pollen nor nectar, but oil. Bees use the oil as food for their larvae.