S. heterophyllus is a sturdy upright evergreen specimen tree which grows steadily to three metres within ten years and up to a maximum of 15m. It has a smaller leaf than its two New Zealand relatives, Ewekuri (S. banksii, and S. smithii). Turepo foliage is a darker green, ovate, with obvious veins on the underside, finely serrated at the edges, and slightly coriaceous. In juveniles, the leaves are shaped like violins. As they become older the leaves become oval but remain the same size. The Turepo spreading canopy splays from a stout divaricated trunk (25-60cm dia.) with upright main branches from which smaller branchlets spread (at takana most of ours are trimmed to single leader form). Adult Turepo possess roughish light-coloured bark with raised lenticels (breathing pores). If the tree is damaged it discharges significant amounts of thick, milky sap.
Turepo flowers from August to October once it has left the juvenile stage and carries 2-3mm male and female blooms on separate trees. The tiny cream-coloured flowers are arranged distichously (two vertical rows on opposite sides of the flower stalks), the males on longer stalks with more flowers, and the females with far fewer.
Bright red fruit ripens from November to March as plump single-seeded berries (drupes) approximately 5mm in diameter. Birds love them, and the tree also attracts bees and insects to the flowers.
Streblus heterophyllus is found all over wild New Zealand, though not necessarily en masse, and more particularly on the eastern side of the country. It favours warm conditions and fertile soils but is extraordinarily drought resistant and resilient on poor soils. It is often located on forest edges, and sometimes as an understorey component of tall coastal forest, but is most commonly found along the watery margins of creeks and rivers. Large specimens are frequently found on alluvial terraces.
S.heterophyllus thrives on most lowlands and is at its best in a sheltered spot with deep well-drained soils, but it will grow outside of its ideal environment, and in truly adverse conditions will become an attractive more stunted bush rather than a tree.