Also known as the bread tree, Encephalartos altensteinii is indigenous to South Africa and is a prevalent species in eastern Cape and south-western Natal provinces especially near-coastal sites ranging from open shrubland steep rocky slopes to closed evergreen forests in valleys. Although Encephalartos altensteinii resembles Encephalartos natalensis and Encephalartos lebomboensis, these three species are differentiated by the prickles that E. natalensis and E. lebomboensis have on their lowest leaflets as well as the woolly covering over new leaves.

It is an evergreen slow growing cycad for moist areas of South Africa, grows up to seven metres tall and the main stem may be branched or unbranched. The glossy leaves are straight or curved backwards and up to three metres in length. The leaflets are rigid and fairly broad with one or both margins toothed. Cycads are long-lived, male and female plants produce cones at the same time, the cones are usually produced in quantities of two to five and are up to fifty centimetres long.

The shapely leaf crowns and colourful cones makes the bread cone very ornamental in the landscape. Because of the eventual size, Encephalartos altensteinii is best suited to large gardens where it can be displayed as a feature plant. When young, it can be grown as a container plant.