Protea subvestita, the lip-flower protea or water-lily sugarbush grows to a robust shrub and sometimes a small tree (SA Tree List No. 98). Height varies from 2 m to 5 m. The single stem at the base may branch early or higher up later, becoming 30 cm in diameter. The bark is ashen grey, turning black with age; young stems are hairy.
The leaves ascend and overlap like tiles (imbricate). Leaf shape is elliptic to lanceolate, curving upwards. Young leaves are hairy, old ones glabrous. Leaf colour is bluish green, young leaves paler. The leaf margins are entire, a common feature of the genus. The leaf tapers into the broad base of the sturdy petiole; leaf tips are slightly pointed.
Protea lacticolor is similar to this species, but can be distinguished by distribution, the absence of the outward curving of the inner involucral bracts and the downy white hairs on young stems that are grey on P. subvestita (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Rourke, 1980).