Alectryon excelsus is a medium evergreen tree that grows to 13–20 ft (4–6 m) high in cultivation in New Zealand, and 20–30 ft (6–9 m) in the wild. The trunk is 24 in (60 cm) or more in diameter, the bark is almost black. The leaves are pinnate, 4–12 in (10–30 cm) long, and each leaflet may be toothed or have no teeth. Small, dark red flowers.
This plant grows in lowland and coastal forests in both islands of New Zealand, from North Cape to the Banks Peninsula. It makes an attractive specimen in the garden, but is damaged by temperatures of –4.5°C.