Olearia macrodonta is an evergreen medium shrub or small tree, growing to 10 ft (3 m) or more. The leaves are light green, oval, 2–4 in (5–10 cm) long. The leaf edges are serrated like a holly, so it is called New Zealand holly. The white flowers occur in large panicles, and have a musky odour.
Olearia macrodonta is closely related to the narrow leaved Olearia ilicifolia, which also has serrated leaves. Olearia macrodonta is found from the East Cape southwards, in the North Island of New Zealand, and throughout the South Island.