The leaves of Encephalartos horridus have leaflets more blue in colour than any of the other grey-blue leaved Encephalartos species. Leaves usually recurve towards their tips, comprising two opposing arrays of many leaflets. The main section of each leaflet may be straight or curved and oblong with smooth margins, attenuating to a spiny tip. A couple of smaller lobes, on one side of the leaflet only, are present near the base of the leaflet, variously twisted or angled, also with smooth margins and spiny tips.
This gives the leaves a busy, convoluted appearance, different from the often regular, parallel leaflet arrangement on the typical Encephalartos leaf. Young leaves have a waxy covering. The leaves of this Encephalartos species do not droop during coning, as happens in some of the others.
The specific name horridus means bristly, dreadful or horrible. The first meaning refers to the spiny tips that point to the observer at several angles; the latter two meanings suggest the anxious sensation caused by imagining the effects of inadvertent body contact with these rigid leaves, particularly their threatening spines.
Overcome the sensation and this remarkable plant has attractive leaves; attractive in the sense of being pretty (only), not to come close to (www.plantzafrica.com).