New Zealand Christmas Tree

The pohutukawa tree is often referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree. During the beginning of NZ's summer season, from November to January the trees are smothered in bright red feathery blossoms.

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picnic table under pohutukawa trees

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The Pohutukawa Tree

Home to the coast they withstand wind, storm, and spray of seawater. Its branches spread horizontally along the cliffs with a myriad of aerial roots in search for ground to cling to. An anatomy that is ideal to colonise unstable ground, rock, and lava.

The tree belongs to the myrtle family and with its hard, dark red wood there to the genus Metrosideros. This genus has a remarkable quality to start the blooming and reproduction cycle in seedlings before they reach their first year. Undoubtedly this is a stroke of nature’s genius to grant survival under harsh conditions. Despite all hardship that life along the coast bears these slow growing trees can become as old as 1000 years.

Due to its magnificent appearance and its ability to adjust easily to environments the pohutukawa is today found far from its natural territory and beautifies gardens in North America and South Africa. Within New Zealand we find the tree at the coast and inland. At the coast the trees tend to spread over a wide surface area while inland protected from wind forces they grow upright and tall.

Despite the New Zealand Christmas tree’s flexibility it suffers from introduced threads like the New Zealand possum. To secure its place on the coastline of Northland the Project Crimson was called into live. With their determination to safeguard this magnificent tree will live on to inspire.

Artists paint New Zealand Christmas tree pictures and other tree details, others like throw an atmospheric reflection of the landscape they grow in onto their canvas. Designers use blossoms in their design for logos, Christmas decorations and other home decoration. Whereas writers express their inspiration in poems and Christmas carols. Children use the tree as climbing object and to swing, while families gather in the protective shade of its expanding branches.

Past and present myths and uses

Long before settlers set their foot onto New Zealand the Maori people of the land regarded the pohutukawa as one of the chiefly trees and individual ones were sacred.

It is rooted in stories like the canoe arrival of the Arawa tribe. Their leading chief, intrigued by the crimson-fringed coast, let go of his feather headdress only to discover that the believed feathers in the distance were fragile pohutukawa blooms. A story that let us understand the name given in Maori language. Pohutukawa translates into a red feathered headdress. Po has different meanings amongst which it can refer to the night or underworld.

Another myth that converts the tree’s position in Maori tradition is about the pohutukawa tree right at the edge of Cape Reinga where the Pacific and the Tasman Sea meet. This point is considered the departing point of the spirits to the next world. They supposedly slide down the tree’s roots to join their ancestors.

In everyday life a pohutukawa tree was planted in memory of chiefs, battlefields, or birth of a chief’s son. Healing power was recognised in bark juice and nectar for diverse complaints.

More common for today is to enjoy Pohutukawa Honey New Zealand as a sweet treat on toast.

All in all the New Zealand Christmas tree is significant for its beauty and its national value to the landscape and to the people. Artists and photographers find inspiration in the red blooming tree. Find the painting of Harold Coop 'Abstract Pohutukawa'.

Encountered flora on a bush walk....

Cabbage tree
Kauri tree
Kowhai tree
Manuka tree
Nikau palm
Pohutukawa tree

Rimu tree
Silver fern
Timber milling in West Auckland
Popular honey flavours from New Zealand
Tree art prints

Encountered New Zealand birds and wildlife on a walk ...

Kereru, New Zealand wood pigeon
Kiwi bird

Tui bird
New Zealand possum
Pukeko, New Zealand swamp hen
Bird art

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