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Known as the NZ Christmas tree, the

Pohutukawa bursts into crimson display

from October through the Christmas holiday

period. Legend has it that if it flowers early,

it will be a long hot summer. For most these

scarlet, crimson or orangey flowers are the

symbol of the NZ summer, but few realise

there are examples of other blossom colours

such as white and yellow. A few rarely seen

yellow Pohutukawa are found in Kuaotunu.

Photographer, Ian Patrick captured the one

shown below flowering next to the red, just

before press time.


It is believed these slow growing trees can live

up to 1000 years. Holding a prominent place

in Maori mythology, legends tell of the young

warrior, Tawhaki, and his attempt to find help

in heaven to avenge his father’s death. He

subsequently fell to earth and the crimson

flowers are said to represent his blood.

One of the most sacred is weather-beaten

and small. This tree, reputed to be 800-1200

years old (two-three times the generally

accepted lifespan

of a Pohutukawa),

clings to the cliffs

at Cape Reinga, the

northernmost tip of

NZ. Maori believe

that after ceremonial

burial, the body’s

spirit comes here,

slides down the roots to enter the sea and then

emerges onto Ohaua, the highest tip of the

Three Kings Islands, for a final farewell before

rejoining the ancestors. Thus, the tree is known

as ‘the place of leaping’.

Tairua Maori elder Moana Jones shared many

stories about sacred and revered trees in

the Tairua area in “Tales of the Trees”, a two

The trunk of the Pohutukawa, so beautifully painted by

Souzie Speerstra, has been compared to many Kiwis,

a bit twisted, gnarled and tenacious – with aerial roots

that reach out searching for new opportunities.


he Pohutukawa



are at home on the

Coromandel Coast, withstanding

wind, storm and the spray of seawater.



is the word given to

geysers – a ‘plume’ of water or surf, and has

been translated to mean ‘drenched or splashed

with spray’ referencing its coastal habitat.

Branches spread horizontally along the cliffs

with a myriad of aerial roots in search of ground

to cling to, preserving ground, rock and lava.

They are capable of clinging over cliff tops, and

a grove of them exists on Bay of Plenty’s active

volcano, White Island. Its Hawaiian cousin, the

ohia tree with its lehua blossoms, is closely

linked with Pele, the goddess associated with

the Hawaii volcanoes and her legends. It is the

first tree to sprout and grow on the fresh lava.

A local Pohutukawa giant was recently

discovered in the bush at Puka Park Resort

in Pauanui (see story on pages 34-35 for

details). It may be a record-breaker! For

scale, see size of Sarni’s head at bottom.

Photo of tree trunk (and Sarni Hart) by Willie


One of the rare yellow Pohutukawa in

Kuaotunu. –

Photos by Ian Patrick

Notable specimens





“Pohutukawa” by

Souzie Speerstra