Karaka is a handsome hardy evergreen which grows to six metres within ten years up to a maximum of twelve metres. Its attractive glossy dark green foliage billows into a lush rounded crown made up of thick coriaceous leaves. C.laevigatus has a stout trunk, often with coppiced side shoots and substantial spreading branches, both of which exhibit many obvious lenticels (breathing pores).
Often dioecious, Karaka flowers at the tips of branchlets between August and November, with later blooms occurring at the southern extremes of the trees’ distribution. The 4-5mm diameter greenish-cream blooms are less than showy, but as the dark green fruit begins to ripen from January to April, the show is definitely on. The large date-like drupes turn a spectacular bright orange, and the birds, particularly kereru and tui swoop to partake of the bounty, since little other fruit is yet ripe. Birds are an important seed dispersal mechanism.
Maori played a significant hand in Karaka distribution since it was a food source for them and they planted it almost everywhere they lived. Corynocarpus laevigatus is thought to have natural distribution from the Kermadec Islands, over the upper North Island coasts and occasionally inland, but it is also found from Westland north. It favours coastal situations as well as lowland forest, though always below 600m.
Karaka is an especially beautiful specimen or street tree, but also makes striking hedging. It tolerates salt-laden wind, and poor, dry or sandy soils but is frost-tender when young.