'A'ali'I is an evergreen shrub found in open locations such as fields and pastures. Bark is reddish brown to gray or black and the leaves are elliptic in shape, 1.5 to 3 inches long and less than an inch wide. They are dark green and glossy above and pale green below. Leaves have a sticky resin on them and alternate along the branch. Flowers are yellow to orangish-red, in panicles (strings) up to an inch in length. Fruits are a roundish capsule, approximately half an inch wide with 2-4 wings.
'A'ali'l wood is very durable and strong. Traditionally it was used by Hawaiians for pou (house posts) and for digging sticks and fishing lures. Male and female flowers often occur on separate shrubs. The female flowers are the only ones to produce the fruit capsules. The fruits, which cluster in the leaf axils, have been used to create a red dye.