It’s fascinating to learn that the Pohutukawa tree is a traditional Christmas tree in New Zealand. This is the most well-known and visible native tree in New Zealand. Have you ever seen Kiwis adorn this plant for the holidays? If so, please take a picture and share it with the community!
The History of Pohutukawa
Ted Forsman, a military priest, wrote a pohutukawa hymn in 1941, referring to “your crimson tufts, our snow.” At the time, Forsman was stationed in the Libyan Desert, which is not typically connected with the image of a blazing red pohutukawa tree. Many of his fellow New Zealanders, on the other hand, would have recognized the photograph right away.
The tree has an amazing ability to cling to steep cliffs and hillsides, as well as thrive in seemingly impossible areas (there is even a grove of pohutukawa trees on the active volcano island of White Island in the Bay of Plenty).
Pohutukawa means “sprinkled with spray” in Maori, which is an obvious reference to its common location by the seaside. Aside from providing welcome shade for beachgoers in New Zealand’s summer, the pohutukawa’s blaze of scarlet blossoms from November to January has earned it the moniker “New Zealand Christmas Tree.”
The flowering pohutukawa is unquestionably one of the main emblems of the Christmas holiday season for generations of Kiwis. In truth, there are multiple types of pohutukawa, with blossoms ranging in color from crimson to peach.
The tree is also notable for its unpredictable blossoming, with various portions of the same tree blooming at somewhat different times. In recent years, the pohutukawa has been threatened by predators, particularly the possum.
The possum, like other trees, eats on the leaves of the pohutukawa, stripping it bare. Major attempts are being made to minimize possum populations, but they remain a continual danger.
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The World’s Most Massive Pohutukawa Tree
A highly unusual pohutukawa can be found in Te Araroa, on the east coast of the North Island, some 170 kilometers from Gisborne. This is the world’s largest known pohutukawa. It stands more than 21 meters tall and has a diameter of 40 meters at its widest point.
Local Maori have named the tree “Te-Waha-O-Rerekohu.” It’s thought to be over 350 years old. The name is derived from the surname of a local director, Rerekohu, who resides nearby.
This pohutukawa is located on the grounds of the local school, near the town’s beachfront. It is clearly visible from the road and is a “must-see” on the East Cape route from Opotiki to Gisborne. It is also close to the East Cape vista and lighthouse, which are located on New Zealand’s most easterly point.
The most well-known pohutukawa tree in New Zealand can be seen on the cliff edge of the country’s northernmost point, Cape Reinga. This place holds enormous spiritual significance for the Maori. Known as the “place of leaping,” this is where, according to Maori religion, the spirit begins its journey to Hawaiki, their ancestral homeland, after death.
Interestingly, a pohutukawa tree is at the focus of considerable debate, implying that Captain Cook was not the first European to settle in New Zealand. A big pohutukawa tree at La Corunna, a coastal city in northwest Spain, is thought to be nearly 500 years old. In fact, regardless of its age, the tree becomes the city’s floral emblem. The pohutukawa is a widespread and distinctive feature of the New Zealand coastline throughout the upper North Island. And if you come here around Christmas, you will be able to see its beautiful blossoms.