The specific name of Erica lateralis suggests something on the side, probably referring to the flowers that hang out to the side of the branches on peduncles as long as 8 mm, twice as long as the flower. The flowers grow at branch tips, solitary or in small clusters. The flowers are urn-shaped, bulging with fused petals that have four tiny flaring lobes at the tiny corolla mouths where the styles are well exserted, the dark anthers shorter, just visible.
The leaves are small, hairy and linear in shape, only faintly grooved below. The leaves provide clues for identifying this species. The species resembles several other Erica species with urn-shaped flowers, particularly E. sitiens that has a longer, curved corolla.
The distribution of the species lies mainly in the mountains of the south-western Cape with isolated outlying localities in places near Bredasdorp, Ladismith and Tulbagh (Baker and Oliver, 1967).