New Zealand’s Christmas Tree

The pohutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa) has been known as New Zealand’s Christmas Tree since the 1800’s.

pohutukawa tree

It is naturally found all around the coast of the North Island, but sadly pests [such as the introduced possum] have decimated these forests by about 90%.

pohutukawa tree flowers

It’s red flowers are said to represent the blood of a young Maori warrior who fell to Earth and died. Tawhaki was trying to find Heaven, seeking help so that he could avenge the death of his father.

pohutukawa tree flowers

Translated, pohutukawa means ‘sprinkled by spray’, which is believed to be because of these trees being found along coastlines. They are capable of clinging to cliff tops and a grove of them exists on White Island, which is a local active volcano island here in the Bay of Plenty.

pohutukawa tree flowers

At Cape Reinga is a pohutukawa tree that is venerated here. Known as the ‘place of leaping’, it is from here that the spirits of the dead leap off the headland, climbing down the roots of the tree and begin their journey back to their homeland – Hawaiiki.

At Te Araroa is what is believed to be the largest pohutukawa. Named “Te-Waha-O-Rerekohu”, the tree is over 20 metres high and is 40 metres in diameter. it is estimated that “Te-Waha-O-Rerekohu” is over 350 years old. and the name is derived from a local chief who lived in the area – Rerekohu.

While my neighbours’ pohutukawa is not yet famous…it is beautiful, and in flower.

pohutukawa tree flower

In 1941 this carol was composed by Father Ted Forsman while he was serving in the Libyan Desert.

A Pohutukawa Carol

Now crimson, crimson Christmas trees
Pohutukawas rim our seas
And flower to flame on every shore
For joy of him whom Mary bore.
Chorus: Babe so poor and small
Jesus God of all
O with us abide
This holy Christmas-tide.
Long raise, O trees about our land,
Your crimson sign on every strand
That we may tell each Christmas morn
Why Jesus was of Mary born.
Such trees gave wood to make his cot,
And all his toys from trees he got,
And when he came to ply a trade
He shaped from trees the things he
Because a tree had brought us doom,
Was Jesus born of Mary’s womb,
To blossom high on Calvary’s tree
The crimson bloom that makes us free.

Pohutukawa Carol

And I think you might enjoy hearing these guys sing “Pohutukawa Tree”…just a little !!


  1. Holy pohutukawa Batman!

    Now that is a Christmas tree, assuredly as proud as a peacock does it display its colours. On a pizzazz scale it beats the spruce I risked life and limb to murder last weekend. You have definitely have it all here; the script, the notes, the voices and pictures all wrapped up in Christmas Spirit. Merry Christmas to ya!


  2. New Zealand has so many beautiful native plants and trees! Every year I get my wife some honey imported from New Zealand, this year it’s going to be Manuka and Blue Borage.


  3. The pictures are beautiful! This tree looks similar to a tree in the US that we call a “bottle brush tree”. Well, at least that’s what I’ve always known it to be called – I’m sure it’s not native to the area, so now I’m wondering if it just might really be pohutukawa tree! And I really enjoyed the video of the kids singing! Thank you for sharing, and Merry Christmas!


  4. Beautiful, Jo. This tree reminds me of our Callistemon, or bottle brush tree. I believe they were imported from new Zealand. Loved the carol. I wish I had my piano here. i could have played along. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you. xx


  5. What a lovely post Jo 🙂 it’s so nice to hear of other people’s traditions and legends about celebratory times such as Christmas . Love that tree it’s’ self decorated’ for the Festive Season 😀
    Happy Christmas to you !


  6. This time, last Christmas, I was enjoying those lovely trees on the beach of Lake Taupo. That was the most fantastic Christmas I have ever had. NZ is so beautiful and the pohutukawas too. I wish I was back there again! Great post! Merry Christmas!


  7. I really loved the video of the kids singing Pohutukawa Tree. Kids are always beautiful when they sing. And I was surprised to read the song you’ve added, written in 1941 in Libya, because I too posted a song from that year in North Africa, probably Egypt. Great minds…


  8. Hi, thanks for sharing this article on the Byteful Travel Blog Carnival. Stop by and take a look and say hi. I look forward to hearing from you.


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