Our Christmas tree, Part 2

Pohutukawa turn on a blooming marvellous free show at this time and, besides the obvious attributes of their flowers, also offer great shade and drama to the landscape.

Pohutukawas a Plenty is a specialist nursery in Omokoroa owned by Geoff Canham and wife Liz. Geoff is a member of the New Zealand Recreation Association, a former parks manager with Tauranga City Council and now a parks and recreation consultant for Opus in Tauranga. (2013 update: Geoff is now a self-employed consultant.)

A pohutukawa at Te Puna Quarry Park.

He and Liz grow their trees from seed they collect on Mauao’s base track, choosing trees that flower earlier and longer. “And because the trees are constantly hybridising among themselves,” Geoff says, “we use older ones to ensure undiluted stock.”

But collecting the seed is no walk in the park. “It’s quite a fine seed and, if it touches your skin, it is an irritant.”

The Canhams also grow cuttings of yellow-flowered pohutukawa taken from parent stock on Motiti Island – in season you can see the yellow trees in flower on the central median strip of Cameron Rd between 10th and 11th Aves.

Geoff warns that pohutukawa will be successful in a pot for only a limited time.
“Pohutukawa loathe the limited light spectrum inside and are particularly susceptible to air conditioning,” he says, adding that rata do better as a potted specimen, but are still not suitable as a fulltime indoor plant.

“We grow container specimens for display at outdoor events and reckon on about eight months in a pot as the optimum.”

Pohutukawa are great low-maintenance plants once they have their adult foliage (usually deeper green, with thicker leaves that are grey beneath), although the teenage years can be a bit rough.

“The juvenile leaves [green] of trees grown from seed can suffer from an insect called a psyllid which can give an acne-type appearance to the leaves but the psyllid doesn’t feed on adult leaves,” Geoff says. “Cutting-grown plants don’t seem to suffer.”

He suggests a systemic insecticide to control leaf rollers, other leaf miners present in buds, and scale, which is often out of sight in the root zone in containers.

The Mauao base track is a great place to enjoy pohutukawa in flower.

Cicadas are another pest to young trees, laying eggs in the stems which then die and break off. A systemic insecticide will also control this.

“As adult trees, they tend to grow through any pest attack.”

Possums are the number one enemy, particularly in the wild where marsupial grazing may be undetected until the trees are in significant decline. With protection, regeneration is possible.

Geoff pleads with gardeners to plant their pohutukawa to “leave a legacy”.

“Pohutukawa need space, and if you’ve been given a potted plant but don’t have space you could donate yours to a park or coastline.” Pohutukawa should never be planted near a building or water pipes as their extensive root system can cause major damage.

  • For more information on Pohutukawas a Plenty see the website or phone 548 2008 or 021 351 602.

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and has been edited slightly. It appears here with their permission.

PS: Who’s noticed the pohutukawa sculpture beside the motorway in Auckland? More about that here with details of how its constructed here.

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