Astelia nervosa is a clump-forming herbaceous plant up to 30 in (80 cm) high. The stiff, leathery, arching, light to medium green leaves are 20–60 in (0.5–1.5 m) long. The flowers are light brown to dark red. The fruits ripen to various shades of orange to orange-red.
This very variable Astelia species is found lowland and low mountain areas in the southern part of the North Island, throughout the South Island, and also in Stewart Island, New Zealand.