Matipo is a red-stemmed, slender, upright specimen tree which grows slowly to three metres at 10 years, up to a maximum six metres. Its preferred environment is riparian but this hardy native grows well anywhere it can establish. It can be found in forest lowlands, coastal, occasionally in montane areas, and on bush margins, and it is relatively common nationwide. M. australis is sometimes mistaken for a Pittosporum species but is a longer lived tree. It is drought, wind, and frost tolerant, as well as browse-resistant, since possums and other browsers appear to find it unpalatable.
Also known as Mapou, Mapau, and Red Matipo, M. australis is a dense substantial shrub with small yellowish crimped-edge leaves and lateral branches providing attractive foliage. It makes ideal easily shaped hedging. Flowering from January through to April, the tiny off-white flowers are barely evident but the fruit which grows in clusters of small black berries directly on the stem attracts native birds, and even blackbirds. The fruit is slow to mature (up to a year) so both flowers and fruit can be simultaneously present. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees (dioecious).
A most attractive specimen tree, Matipo is as happy in full sun, as it is in shade and makes an admirable visual screen or sturdy windbreak. Its hardiness makes it valuable in revegetation projects where it protects fragile seedlings while they develop. Providing there is a natural seed source, it is also a common early coloniser of abandoned land.