This cycad occurs between Louwsburg and Ngome in Northern KwaZulu-Natal.The habitat is short grassland growing on south-facing slopes in full sun. The stem can grow up to 3 metres tall with dark glossy-green leaves erect to spreading and 1.20- 1.45m long.
Encephalartos aemulans is endemic to South Africa and occurs in the KwaZulu Natal province. It is known from one population in the Vryheid district. Two old male plants were located 10km away but no further populations were found. The plants grow on a hill at an altitude of 1000 to 1100m and prefer south facing sandstone cliffs in short grassland.
The stem of Encephalartos aemulans is well developed, erect and unbranched. It can be up to 1.5 meters tall and rarely up to 3 meters and suckers from the base. Stems are up to 350 mm in diameter and has a densely woolly crown.
Leaves are dark glossy green and straight. The rigid leaves are from 1.2 meters to 1.5 meters long and rarely 2 meters long. The petioles are short and only 70 mm to 110 mm long. The pinnae are directed towards the apex of the leave at an angle of 15° â€“ 45° and opposing pinnae are set at 135° to each other. Basal pinnae do not overlap and are reduced to prickles towards the base of the leaf. The median pinnae either do not overlap or the lower margin overlaps the upper margin of the pinna below it. The median pinnae are 125 mm to 150 mm long and are 16 mm to 18 mm wide, narrowly elliptic and very slightly recurved, tapering at both ends. The apices are offset and spinescent, with 2 to 3 teeth on the upper margin and 1 to 2 on the lower margin.
Pollen and seed cones are sessile and very similar. The specific epithet, meaning similar, refers to this characteristic of E. aemulans. Two to four cones are usually produced per stem. Male cones are ellipsoid at first, becoming more elongated when mature. It is lemon yellow and covered with a dense brown woolly coat. They are 29-38 cm long and 14-18 cm wide. The faces are smooth except for the front facet which is slightly raised and warty. Female cones are ellipsoid, green and has the same woolly coat as the male cones. They are 35-40 cm long and 20-23 cm wide. Megasporophyll faces are warty. The peduncle can be 2 to 2.5 cm long and is buried in the crown. The sarcotesta is bright red and the sclerotesta has poorly expressed longitudinal ridges. Seeds are 25-29 mm long and 15-19 mm in diameter.”