Leaf undersides showing the prominent rusty midrib, a key distinguishing feature
Banksia oblongifolia is a shrub that can reach 3 m (9.8 ft) high, though is generally less than 2 m (6.6 ft) high, with several stems growing out of a woody base known as a lignotuber. The smooth bark is marked with horizontal lenticels, and is reddish-brown fading to greyish-brown with age. New leaves and branchlets are covered with a rusty fur. The leaves lose their fur and become smooth with maturity, and are alternately arranged along the stem. Measuring 5–11 cm (2.0–4.3 in) in length and 1.5–2 cm (0.59–0.79 in) in width, the leathery green leaves are oblong to obovate (egg-shaped) or truncate with a recessed midvein and mildly recurved margins, which are entire at the base and serrate towards the ends of the leaves. The sinuses (spaces between the teeth) are U-shaped and teeth are 1–2 mm long. The leaf underside is whitish with a reticulated vein pattern and a raised central midrib. The leaves sit on 2–5 mm long petioles.
Flowering has been recorded between January and October, with a peak in autumn and early winter (April to June). The inflorescences, or flower spikes, arise from the end of 1 to 5 year old branchlets, and often have a whorl of branchlets arising from the node or base. Measuring 5–15 cm (2.0–5.9 in) high and 4 cm (1.6 in) wide, the yellow spikes often have blue-grey tinged limbs in bud, though occasionally pinkish, mauve or mauve-blue limbs are seen. Opening to a pale yellow after anthesis, the spikes lose their flowers with age and swell to up to 17.5 cm (6.9 in) high and 4 cm (1.6 in) wide, with up to 80 follicles. Covered with fine fur but becoming smooth with age, the oval-shaped follicles measure 1–1.8 cm (0.39–0.71 in) long by 0.2–0.7 cm high (0.1–0.3 in) and 0.3–0.7 cm (0.12–0.28 in) wide. The bare swollen spike, now known as an infructescence, is patterned with short spiky persistent bracts on its surface where follicles have not developed. Each follicle contains one or two obovate dark grey-brown to black seeds sandwiching a woody separator. Measuring 1.2–1.8 cm (0.47–0.71 in) long, they are made up of an oblong to semi-elliptic smooth or slightly ridged seed body, 0.7–1.1 cm (0.28–0.43 in) long by 0.3–0.7 cm (0.12–0.28 in) wide. The woody separator is the same shape as the seed, with an impression where the seed body lies next to it. Seedlings have bright obovate green cotyledons 1.2–1.5 cm (0.47–0.59 in) long and 0.5–0.7 cm (0.20–0.28 in) wide, which sit on a stalk, or 1 mm diameter finely hairy seedling stem, known as the hypocotyl, which is less than 1 cm high. The first seedling leaves to emerge are paired (oppositely arranged) and lanceolate with fine-toothed margins, measuring 2.5–3 cm long and 0.4–0.5 cm wide. Subsequent leaves are more oblanceolate, elliptic (oval-shaped) or linear. Young plants develop a lignotuber in their first year.
Banksia oblongifolia can be distinguished from B. robur, which it often co-occurs with, by its smaller leaves and bare fruiting spikes. B. robur has more metallic green flower spikes, and often grows in wetter areas within the same region. B. plagiocarpa has longer leaves with more coarsely serrated margins, and its flower spikes are blue-grey in bud, and later bear wedge-shaped follicles. In the Sydney Basin, B. paludosa also bears a superficial resemblance to B. oblongifolia, but its leaves are more prominently spathulate (spoon-shaped) and tend to point up rather than down. The leaf undersides are white and lack the prominent midrib of B. oblongifolia, the new growth is bare and lacks the rusty fur, and the aged flower parts remain on the old spikes.