The pohutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa) has been known as New Zealand’s Christmas Tree since the 1800’s.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And I think you might enjoy hearing these guys sing “Pohutukawa Tree”…just a little !!