Saturday, 17 November 2007

Pohutukawa v Rata

No it's not a netball match.

New Zealand is not short of spectacular trees many of which burst forth into bloom giving the landscape a much brighter and more varied canopy than is found in Europe. Perhaps one of the most spectacular and certainly one of the best known and best loved trees in New Zealand is the Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree. In its natural range the Pohutukawa grows round the northern coasts and coastal forests of North Island as well as round the shore and islets of Lake Taupo and some other North Island lakes. It is quite a large tree and can grow more than 20m tall and may spread more than 38m. In a good flowering season the mountainsides can be aflame with the brilliancy of the flowers.

When I was introduced to the trees examples of which I have photographed I was introduced to them as Pohutukawa. However we are not in the natural area for them so I assumed that they were Rata (also known as the Norther Rata) (Metrosideros robusta) which is abundant throughout North Island and some of South Island. The wood is extremely hard and dense and consequently has many uses.

I have pored over my tree book and cannot match the flowers to the Pohutukawa, Rata or Southern Rata (which appears in North Island too). So I leave you with the photos of just another flowering teee.


  1. How about Metrosideros kermadecensis, the Kermadec Island Pohutukawa - On one site this matches flowers but seems to have more rounded leaves.
    and on another ( has the right leaves but smaller flowers!

    Perhaps life will be easier when you can browse the web at home!

    "The blazing red flowers of pohutukawa around Christmas time have earned this tree the title of New Zealand's Christmas tree. Pohutukawa and rata belong to the genus Metrosideros. In New Zealand, this genus is represented by two pohutukawa (mainland and Kermadec) and six species of rata vine, a related shrub, and three tree rata. Mainland pohutukawa (M. excelsa) occurs naturally in the upper half of the North Island (north of New Plymouth and Gisborne) although it grows from one end of the country to the other. It is easily distinguished from rata by the hairs on the underside of the leaves. "

    As these trees are obviously planted they could be either Metrosideros. They look like the Metrosideros excelsa on
    which says they are widely planted.

    There is, of course, the chance that since they are cultivated they may even be a sub-species or form just as we have many different Rowans for example, most of which do not occur in the wild but have been cultivated by gardeners.

  2. Thanks for that CJ. The problem is that I have one (fairly basic obviously) book on native trees and rarely have time when on the Internet to do interesting things like explore trees and other information.