Olearia fragrantissima is a rare endemic small bushy shrub with many erect reddish-brown divaricating and sweet-smelling small flowers inhabiting coastal areas from Banks Peninsula down the east coast to Invercargill. Naturally distributed from coastal to lower montane areas usually in grey scrub, on forest margins or shrublands. Sometimes on the margins of estuarine or saltmarsh vegetation in places which would be subject to saline water in extremes of tide, also found on gravelly soils often on the margins of steep gullies, gorges and in boulder fields. Last reported in 2017 as being at risk with a partial decline in population by the Department of Conservation’s Threat Classification System.
It is most commonly found in diverse mixed forests containing Sophora microphylla, Plagianthus regius, Pittosporum eugenioides, Griselinia littoralis, Carpodetus serratus, and Coprosma species. It is very tolerant of a range of conditions and once established drought tolerant. Olearia fragrantissima is a deciduous shrub or tree to 12 m tall, with a multi-branched or single-leadered, upright architecture and ribbony, fawn bark that peels off in strips (another decorative feature) from the trunk and older branches. Twigs and branches are wiry, coppery red to dark brown, and zigzagging. It has pale green leaves that are thin and oval in shape. The deliciously apricot-peach scented flowers are rather notable and unique to this species, they are cream to yellow and grow in clusters that appear between October and December. Tolerates dry fertile soil. Makes a fine clipped hedge.