The giant Eastern Cape cycad has shiny bright green leaves that grow into a large spiralling and erect crown. They reach a length of up to 1,3 m; some sources say even longer. There may be two to five sharp teeth on both edges of the rigid lanceolate leaflets, but sometimes a leaflet may have entire margins. The leaflets are moderately spaced along the sturdy rachis, unlike some other cycads where the leaflets overlap markedly. The lowest leaflets are smaller, but not reduced to prickles.
At the leaf base there is a 20 cm petiole or leafless section. Encephalartos altensteinii tends to produce suckers and thus clumps over time. Older stems in mature plants may recline (www.cycadsociety.org; Coates Palgrave, 2002).