An evergreen, much-branched, slow growing shrub or small tree 4 to 6 m tall with crooked and twisted stem. The lower branches, even though dry, are persistent and rigid, and as the trees grow very closely, they form impenetrable thickets. No prominent aerial roots are present. Twigs are angular and hairy. Bark is light grey to brown, flaky in old trees. Leaves are simple, opposite in arrangement, oblong to lanceolate in shape, 0.5 to 2.2 cm long and 0.2 to 1 cm wide, round or bluntly acute at the tip and hairy on both the sides. Inflorescence is one to a few flowered cymes, axillary in position and hairy. Flowers are white or pinkish-white in colour and 0. 7 to 1.0 cm across; calyx is tubular, 12- lobed, green in colour and hairy. Petals are six, white and inserted between calyx lobes. Fruit is tubular with rounded apex, about 1 cm long and 0.3 to 0.5 cm wide, densely hairy and green in young and brown when matured. Each fruit contains 20 to 30 small seeds.
It grows on a variety of soil including coastal fine sand, coastal limestone rock, cliffs, coral conglomerate, limestone bedrock outcrops of atolls etc. It is able to grow in places where seawater wet its roots regularly during the high tide. It has a wide tropical and sub-tropical distribution. It is found in East Africa and throughout the Indian Ocean, including the British Indian Ocean Territory, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the Seychelles. In South Asia, Pemphis acidula occurs throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, north to Japan and as far west as Sri Lanka. Pemphis acidula is also widespread throughout the Australasian region and the Pacific Islands
It is propagated by seeds, wildlings and roots suckers. Seeds are not directly sown in the field. Nursery-raised seedlings are used for outplanting. Mature fruits can be easily identified by their brown colour and each fruit contains 20 to 30 very small seeds which can be collected by gently pressing the matured fruits. Collected seeds should be subjected to floating test and seeds that float are viable. Seeds may be kept soaked for one to two days before planting in containers. Nursery-raised seedlings 15 to 20 cm can be used for outplanting. Propagation by wildlings is relatively less successful compared to nursery raised seedlings. It can also be propagated by planting straight stems with roots in suitable places. It needs to be pruned to get straight poles.
It is one of the most favoured timbers in the Maldives. Heartwood is very hard, heavy, strong and durable and resistant to wood-boring molluscs and termites. It is used for boat building, particularly for internal beams and pegs to hold together planks. It is also favoured for carved objects such as tool handles (long knife, axe etc.), chess coins, toys and other handicrafts. It is a preferred firewood but with a very hot flame.
The wood of this species has been traditionally valued in many cultures for it is hard and heavy, as well as resistant to rot and warping. It also has naturally a fine finish and may be fashioned into walking canes, fence posts, tool handles, and even anchors. In Réunion and Mauritius it is known as bois matelot. Pemphis acidula is also one of the plant species used in bonsai, particularly in Asia.