The species is characterised by having the stem subterranean with only a few leaves in a crown, and these suberect and somewhat arcuate in the upper half with the leaflets reduced to spines at the base. The cones are readily distinguished from those of other South African species by having a wedgelike overhanging lower edge to the scales. This edge is sometimes irregularly toothed and the colour of the cone varies in shades of bright cadmium yellow to apricot.
Male cones up to 60 x 10 cm., cylindric, strongly smelling; peduncle up to 20 cm. long; median cone-scales ascending with the head deflexed so that the terminal facet is retained in a plane parallel to the axis of the cone; head rhombic with a rounded dentate adaxial margin, terminal facet rhombic and flat.
Female cones up to 45 cm. long, oblong, ovoid, yellowing, pedunculate; median cone-scales straight with the head much inflated; head elliptic with somewhat blunted edges; adaxial margin rounded and medially dentate, terminal facet deflexed.
Seeds 3 cm. long, ovoid, crimson.
Trunk not developed, only the crown above ground.
Leaves up to 2 m. long, recurved, densely woolly when young, glabrate; leaflets up to 20 x 1.8 cm., linear or narrowly oblong, ± straight, margin with usually 1–5 spines on either side more closely set apically, sometimes entire especially on the distal side; leaflets reducing in size and becoming oblong towards the base, ceasing abruptly or reducing ultimately to simple spines; petiole 20–50 cm. long.
Stem subterranean or sometimes with the crown slightly exposed, usually unbranched, up to about 30 cm long, 20 cm diam. with woolly interseriate bracts 5-7 cm long. Leaves 1.25-2.5 m long, suberect and gracefully curved-spreading above, white-woolly on rhachis and lower surface of leaflets when young, glabrescent except for woolly pulvinus; leaflets glossy-green, spreading to recurving, not overlapping except occasionally towards apex of leaf, reduced to many prickles nearly to base of rhachis; median leaflets linear to linear-lanceolate, acuminate, 15-25 cm long (rarely 30), 1.5-2.5 cm broad, usually with both upper and lower margins with 1-3 forward-directed sharp prickles, rarely entire, apex with single point or occasionally with 2 subequal lateral prickles in addition. Cones 1-several from a crown on stout peduncles up to about 20 cm long and 2.5-5 cm diam., greenish-yellow to orange-yellow. Male cones up to about 65 cm tall, tapered to the apex and 6.5-12 cm diam. above the base (varying considerably and partly dependent on whether one or more cones arise from one stem), thinly pale brown tomentose when very young, glabrescent, unpleasant smell when dehiscing; scales set at upward angle from the axis; median scales 3-5 cm long, 3-3.5 cm broad; bulla laterally angled, with flattened face and up to 1.5 cm thick vertically, upper facet humped, terminal facet about 5 mm broad and 5 mm wide vertically extending to the lower margin of the face and there irregularly toothed or rough. Female cones oblong-ovoid in outline, 30-40 cm long, 12-13 cm diam.; median scales 4-4.5 cm long with quadrangular stipe about 2-6 cm long; bulla 4-5.5 cm broad, 2.5 cm thick vertically with incurved lateral lobes about 1.5 cm long and laterally angled; bulla face flattened with the upper and terminal facet almost in one plane; terminal facet with the lower margin more or less toothed and somewhat overlapping the scale below. Seeds scarlet, 2.5-3.3 cm long, 1.8-2 cm diam., with fleshy apex.
Stemless, with about 9 leaves arising from the ground in a circle more or less 20 cm in diameter. Leaves rather dark green (new leaves woolly becoming glabrous) up to 2 m long, suberect with the upper half gradually curving outwards ; leaflets in many pairs, Varley's Green (R.C.S.) above and Forest Green (R.C.S.) beneath (veins slightly raised beneath), opposite or alternate, mostly somewhat ovate-lanceolate (in typical form broadly linear), up to about 20 cm long and 2-4 cm broad in upper two-thirds of the leaf, gradually smaller in size towards the apex; with the apical ones about 9 cm long and 1-4 cm broad, also gradually smaller towards the base until about 35 cm from the ground, when they reduce abruptly into spines; apex pungent pointed; margins sparsely dentate with sharp ascending teeth, usually with a tooth on either side and just below the apex; petiole (i.e. portion below basal spines) about 9 cm long, below ground level, with base yellowish brown, white woolly on the inner face and surrounded by ovate scales; scales about 10 cm long and 5 cm broad, densely matted with off-white wool on the back. Female cone with peduncle dark spinach green, 13 cm long, 4 cm diameter; seeding portion 40 cm long, 11 cm diameter; scales cadmium yellow to orange yellow, the faces about 5 cm in horizontal width and 2-5 cm in perpendicular width, imbricating in about 16 spirals, each with the lower edge wedge like, obscurely and irregularly notched, and with an indication of a rhomboid surface just above this edge; seed scarlet to Brazil Red (R.C.S.) about 3.3 cm long, 1.8 cm diameter; area of attachment whitish, perforated, about 7 mm diameter.