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
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.
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
Photos by Ian Patrick
COROMANDEL LIFE 2014-15 HOLIDAY