Shrub or small tree to over 5 m; trunk slender and developing a ‘braided’ pattern at maturity. Bark smooth and mottled grey, old leaf scars prominent. Leaves evergreen, heteroblastic; in unbranched juveniles, leaves to 50 cm long, narrow and linear, reflexed, green to purplish black though paler below, very thick and leathery, margins reminiscent of a chainsaw blade, with broad, rounded or serrate lobes, often crowded at the apex, midribs prominent, raised to 0.2 cm; in adults, leaves shorter, 5–15 × 1–2 cm, oblong to obovate, ascending, dark green though paler below, thick and leathery, margins serrate or entire, midribs prominent above, apex obtuse or mucronate; petiole stout, 1–2 cm long. Leaves of intermediate form common. Dioecious. Inflorescences terminal and compound, without a distinct primary axis, umbellate. Staminate inflorescence with 5–12 primary branches, 3–5 cm long, with flowers in racemes. Pistillate inflorescence with eight to nine primary branches, 1–3 cm long, with flowers in umbels of two to five. Flowers small, inconspicuous. Fruit ribbed, globose, with a disc-like apex, surmounted by five stigmatic branches, 0.9 cm diameter. Flowering and fruiting January to April (New Zealand). Allan 1961, Salmon 1996. Distribution NEW ZEALAND: North Is., South Is. Habitat Lowland forest and scrub, between 0 and 900 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration NT668, NT669. Cross-references B422, K59.
As a juvenile Pseudopanax ferox is an extreme foliage plant, with its marbled, narrow, hard, saw-blade leaves held at stiff angles from the stem, but like so many it loses the looks of its youth as it metamorphoses into the adult phase, when its rounded top on a straight stem can aptly be described as a blob on a pole. Although a single stem is the norm it can branch from its base when young, or it can sprout juvenile growth from the base of the adult trunk. It is a plant for lovers of curiosities, or admirers of structure: some will think it quite awful. As a juvenile it is well suited to town gardens, being narrow in outline, and will also benefit from the shelter and warmth of an urban situation.