A large, shiny leaf and a dark trunk help to identify the karaka. A mature specimen blocks quite a bit of light so the bush where karaka are dominant is quite dark. Karaka provide food for the wood pigeon and the flowers, which occur in October, food for the tui.
The Maori ate the karaka berry but first prepared these by soaking for a number of days in water to remove the poisonous chemical in this "seed". It is believed that kohekohe provided a natural antidote and thus where the Maori cultivated karaka they also grew a kohekohe just in case. The shining broadleaf (Griselinia lucida) can be easily identified by the lopsided leaf. This is not a characteristic of karaka.