Pukatea is a tall, straight, specimen tree with small to medium light green, glossy leaves which are aromatic when crushed. It grows to a height of three metres at 10 years, up to a maximum of 35 metres. The lush crown is characteristically divided into many umbrella-like heads. L. novae-zealandiae has developed a stabilisation system which allows it to also occupy swampy or shallow soils. In these environments the tree develops slender triangular flanges reaching two metres or more from the roots up the trunk, effectively buttressing it. This characteristic is common with tropical genera, in which Pukatea is loosely grouped. In wetter habitats it will also grow adaptive root structures known as pneumatophores – essentially small snorkel-roots above the water or mudline which allow it to breathe. Pukatea is vulnerable to serious frost and struggles in drought conditions.
It flowers green blossoms from October to November and fruits throughout the year. Though dioecious, a peculiar Laurelia trait sees flowers of both genders appear on the same tree, and sometimes even on the same flower. Fruits are 2.5cm pods which split when ripe to liberate hairy seeds to the breeze.
This tall leafy specimen tree can be found from Nelson and Marlborough through to the Far North and frequently inhabits gullies. It grows on a variety of moist soils including limestone. Pukatea yields quality timber, and in cultivated situations makes good hedging.