Berkheya barbata is a rigid, erect shrublet sprouting from a woody rootstock and growing to 60 cm, although usually considerably smaller. The branches often become entangled with surrounding plants or scramble over rocks.
The stems are white from a woolly covering; the new growth similarly covered. The leaves are shiny and hairless above and white-felted on their lower surfaces. Pale leaf midribs and secondary veins, nearly parallel to the midribs and curving slightly, are visible in the photo. Leaves grow opposite each other on the stems, elliptic in shape with toothed margins and sharp prickles on these teeth. Barbata (Latin) means bearded. Every leaf pair is perpendicular to the previous pair. Leaf margins are rolled under.
The species occurs from the Cape Peninsula to Bredasdorp and northwards to the Cederberg. It grows on rocky sandstone slopes, sometimes in sand-filled crevices of cliffs (Manning, 2007).