POHUTUKAWA – THE NEW ZEALAND CHRISTMAS TREE
The Pohutukawa is one of New Zealand’s best known trees. It has been drawn, photographed, admired, talked and written about throughout the years. First Maori and in later years Pakeha have recognised the Pohutukawa as a very important tree.
Flowering at Christmas time each year and covering itself with bright dark crimson flowers, it is no wonder it has been called New Zealand’s Christmas tree. In New Zealand Christmas is in summer.
The flowering of the Pohutukawa has been described by many people as “perhaps the most magnificent plant in the New Zealand flora” and “one of the floral delights when at Christmas its whole broad crown is a solid mass of red flowers”. Anyone who has seen a large tree in full flower must be impressed. If not impressed by the display, one must be impressed by the thousands and thousands of flowers that cover each tree.
If you are a little late seeing the tree in full flower, then you will see another spectacle. Millions of dark red stamen carpeting the ground.
The flowers are not flowers in the traditional sense. It is about 75mm across, comprises three smaller flowers and has no petals. Protruding from a little cup at the base are masses of bright red stamen. It is the brilliantly coloured stamen, each about 25mm long that produce all the colour.
Each little cup brims over with copious amounts of nectar and the birds and bees will come to feast; notably Tuis and Bellbirds. The bees collect the nectar and take it to their hives to provide honey. Rata honey is renowned for its strong flavour.
It is abundant along coastlines, and in coastal forests of Three Kings Island in the North Island. Also found around Lake Taupo and other lakes of the Volcanic Plateau. It ranges in altitude from sea level to 700 metres. The coastal environment is tough and in some exposed rocky places it may be dwarfed by the elements to a tree only lm high.