Decumbent plants, suckering from the base, trunk up to 4.2 m long and 40 cm diameter. Trunk bears persistent leaf bases. Crown golden, dense, densely tomentose, turning golden with age. Leaves numerous, subsessile, rigid, glaucous, 1.1-1.2(-1.4) m long, apex recurved, petiole bulbous at base, up to 13 cm long, tomentose, rachis tomentose turning subglabrous with age, pinnae entire, inflexed, at a 50° angle toward the tip of the frond, opposing leaflets set at an angle of 40° to each other. Leaflets overlapping, proximally reduced from a medial size of 130-170 × 20-24 mm, narrowly elliptic, falcate, decurrent. Microsporangiate strobili 5 per trunk, narrowly ovoid, 50 × 9 cm on a 12 cm peduncle, median microsporophylls rhombic, 29 × 30 mm, 7 mm high. Megasporangiate strobili 1-3 per trunk, ovoid, 40 × 35 cm on a hidden peduncle 6 cm long, median megasporophylls rhombic, 50 × 44 mm, 15 mm high. Seeds ca. 200 per cone, sarcotesta orange-red, kernel 30-35 × 15-18 mm. Resembles E. eugene-maraisii, E. lehmannii, E. dolomiticus, E. dyerianus, E. princeps and E. middelburgensis in its pungent, stiff, glaucous leaves. It differs from these species in its decumbent habit, decurrent pinnae, raised veins on the abaxial surface of the pinna, and glabrous sporophylls with a waxy covering (Hurter and Glen 1996).
South Africa: three widely separate localities in the Northern Province, at 800-1000 m elevation; 22-23° S, 28-31° E. Grows on SE-facing quartzite cliffs in moist semi-deciduous mixed scrub, usually with an overstory of Androstachys johnsonii trees. Rainfall is 350-650 mm, mainly in summer. The only Encephalartos found nearby is E. transvenosus (Hurter and Glen 1996).
Hurter, P.J.H. and H.F. Glen. 1996. Encephalartos hirsutus (Zamiaceae): A newly described species from South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 62: 46-48.
Donaldson, J.S. (ed.). 2003. Cycads: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cycad Specialist Group. IUCN: Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
Last Modified 2017-12-29