Puriri is a spreading tree which grows to five metres within ten years up to a maximum of 20m. Grown in a forest environment where light doesn’t reach the trunk, they grow straight and tall and without branches until 8-10m of height. When grown out in the open Puriri classically have short thick trunks which ascend into hefty spreading branches which may appear as few as three metres from the ground. The foliage is a rich glossy dark green constituted of palmate (shaped like the palm of your hand) leaves made up of three to five leaflets with a prominent mid-rib and lateral ribs. Overall the tree has a magnificent umbrella-shaped crown providing dense to dappled shade.
Vitex lucens is almost constantly in flower with a more pronounced flush from June to October. The fuschia-pink snapdragon-like blooms appear in clusters of four to fifteen springing from leaf axils, and they carry bird-attracting nectar. Initially the young fruit is pale-green and pear-shaped, but matures into rich crimson berries of which there are almost always some on the tree. Fruit-eating birds love puriri fruit, especially kereru, and it is an important food source for them. In turn, kereru are an important seed dispersal mode for the tree.
Each fruit contains a hard nut with four chambers, and inside each chamber is a single seed. In wet conditions the fruit and skin of the berry macerate and each chamber opens to release its seed.
Puriri occurs naturally from North Cape to the Taranki latitude with occasional specimens south of this point. It favours sheltered coastal sites and grows best on low-lying moist alluvial terrain. Puriri is hardy. When mature, it tolerates swampy ground and will sustain light frost.
Vitex Lucens is one of New Zealand’s classic specimen trees and is ideal in gardens, school grounds, parks, and on farms, provided it has sufficient room to spread. Puriri also make stunning street trees but require moist fertile soils.