Skip to the content

Pōhutukawa

Known as the New Zealand Christmas tree because of a brilliant display of red flowers in early summer.

Pōhutukawa
Meterosideros excelsa
Can grow as high as
20m
What do these icons mean?

More about this tree

  • It's endemic to the upper half of the North Island in warm, drier areas close to the sea. Pōhutukawa can live for hundreds of years in these conditions.
  • The most famous pōhutukawa is at Cape Reinga, where Kupe said his descendants would travel in spirit form back to Hawaiki. Spirits of the dead are said to travel Te Ara Wairua, the spirits’ pathway up the country, until they arrive at Cape Reinga and get to Te Rerenga Wairua “the leaping place of the spirits” where they leap off the headland and down the roots on their journey back to the ancestral land.
  • This is why the phrase “to slide down the pōhutukawa root” means someone has passed away and is heading to the spirit world.
  • In rongōa, both Māori and Pākehā used a decoction from the inner bark as a treatment for dysentry, and the nectar from flowers was used in the treatment of sore throats.
  • The iconic pōhutukawa features in many artworks and brands, and is a national symbol of summertime.
  • Timber is a dense red wood, which has been used by Māori for paddles, digging sticks and weapons, and also by boat builders for its natural bends and immunity to sea worms.
  • Like its close relative the rātā, pōhutukawa has aerial roots which start on branches and make their way to the ground before taking root.
  • It's under threat from the introduced possum, which eats the leaves: causing serious damage, or even death, to the tree.
  • Pōhutukawa can be considered a pest plant outside of its endemic range as it displaces other natives and its vigorous root systems can destroy underground services and lift pavements.
top