Elingamita johnsonii is a dioecious single-leader spreading tree that flourishes with the sturdy leathery growth typical of off-shore island species. This tree grows slowly to 3m within 10 years up to a maximum of 5m, with the crown often spreading up to 5m. The stiff dark green glossy leaves are similar to karaka, but on shorter stems. They are 10-18cm long and 4-9cm wide with prominent mid-ribs and defined veins. The overall effect is of lush subtropical foliage. The grey bark is smooth.
In February tiny flowers begin to bloom in clusters (panicles) through to May appearing at the ends of branches. Occasionally Elingamita also flowers between August and November. Male flowers are cream or pale yellow, and female flowers are yellowish to pink. Male and female flowers normally occur on separate trees (dioecious). Insects love these flowers.
Fruit takes a year, possibly two years to ripen so it is not unusual to see fruit on the tree at any time. The ripe fruit is a striking red drupe with a single seed inside and succulent white flesh. They are exceptionally attractive and birds, skinks and geckos are most partial to them. Unripe fruit is green, yet still manages to afford the tree a decorative appearance. Each round fruit can reach up to 20mm wide, and hangs with others in tight clusters. They are definitely edible; tasting apparently like an oily salted apple.
A northern coastal tree, it is normally an understorey shrub associated with pohutukawa and other coastal shrubs, but on Hinemoa Rock it is emerging as the canopy in exposed places. Elingamita is sensitive to frost but A. Eagle, 2006, records its remarkable ability to recover from drought without loss of leaf even after both leaves and stems have shrivelled.
This extraordinarily lovely native makes an excellent small specimen tree for smaller northern coastal gardens.