Vitex is principally a widespread tropical genus with the one New Zealand endemic species, and Vitex lucens is a broadleaf tree belonging to a family that is mainly tropical and subtropical. Puriri is a forest tree growing to 40–60 ft high or so. The short trunk is usually very irregular, up to 2–5 ft in diameter and is crowned with a massive head. The leaves are opposite, three to five foliate, each leaflet being elliptic in shape and 2–5 in. long, glossy and dark green. The inflorescence is a small 10- to 15-flowered panicle, each flower being 1 to 1½ in. long and dull red. The fruit is bright red, globose, fleshy on the outside and about ¾ in. through. The range of puriri is in coastal and lowland forests from the north to just below the centre of the North Island. As it grows on fertile soils, it has largely been cleared away from its natural forest; but it is planted widely as an ornamental and street tree.
Although the wood is extremely hard, dense, and heavy, it is difficult to work because of the interlacing fibres. It has been much used in the past for railway sleepers, posts, poles, and piles but supplies are now scarce. The grub of a large moth commonly known as the puriri moth (Charagia virescens) infests the tree, so that the wood is usually defective.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.