Tree to 20 m, 1.5 m dbh. Branchlets pubescent to glabrous. Leaves evergreen and leathery, (5.5–)7–12(–21) × 1.5–4.5 cm, narrowly lanceolate to elliptic or ovate, hairs present on immature shoots and inflorescences, secondary veins obscure, 8–10 on each side of the sunken midrib, margins entire and slightly thickened, apex acute or rarely obtuse; petiole 0.4–1.7 cm long and pubescent when young. Monoecious or dioecious. Inflorescences axillary and decussate, borne below the leaves, 1.5–4 cm long and bearing 9–19 flowers. Flowers rather insignificant, unisexual or rarely hermaphrodite; calyx campanulate with four irregular lobes; corolla absent; stamens two. Fruit a reddish drupe, 1–1.5 cm long. Flowering September, fruiting October to November, ripening the year after flowering (New Zealand). Green 1963, 1967, Salmon 1996. Distribution NEW ZEALAND: North Is. (widespread), South Is. (extreme north only). Habitat Lowland and montane forest. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT527. Cross-reference K219.
Although potentially making a large and beautiful forest tree, valued, additionally, for its very hard wood, Nestegis cunninghamii is slow-growing – a specimen in Christchurch Botanic Gardens having reached only 5 m after 25 years (Metcalf 2000). At Tregrehan it has achieved 2 m in 10 years and is doing well. The dark evergreen foliage is attractive, with opposite pairs of very narrow leaves. The flowers are inconspicuous but red fruits are produced in abundance, giving the tree a glow of colour (Salmon 1996). Deep rich, well-drained soil is preferred, with propagation by seed or from cuttings (Metcalf 2000).