Our Christmas tree, part I

Keeping up the Christmas theme …
  • Pohutukawa means “drenched with mist”, while the tree’s botanical name, Metrosideros excelsa, can loosely be translated as “tall ironwood”. The trees are members of the myrtle family.
  • The first recorded reference to pohutukawa as a Christmas tree was in 1867 when settlers were noted using branches to decorate churches and homes.


    A tui digs in. This photo was taken in July on the waterfront at Russell. Photo: Sandra Simpson

  • Maori legend tells of a young warrior, Tawhaki, who attempted to find heaven. He fell to earth and the crimson flowers are said to represent his blood.
  • Te Reinga is a gnarled pohutukawa on the cliff top at Cape Reinga where spirits of the dead are said to begin their journey to Hawaiiki by climbing down the roots of the 800-year-old tree.
  • Te Waha o Rerekohu at Te Araroa (22m high with branches spreading over 40m) also claims the title of oldest tree, being about 600 years old. Some at Manukau Heads are thought to be older.
  • The tree’s wood is hard and strong and was used in ship building by whalers and sealers. Maori used it for tools such as fern-root beaters, paddles, weapons and spade blades, while bark and nectar were used as medicines.
  • Originally, the trees grew only from Gisborne north, although thanks to Project Crimson they can now be found as far south as Otago Harbour.


    Pohutukawa are a feature of New Zealand’s coastline. Photo: Sandra Simpson


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