Pōhutukawa | New Zealand's Christmas Tree
Paihia's beachfront is lined with Pohutukawa trees, a coastal evergreen tree in the myrtle family with leaves which are velvety-white underneath. Come December these trees are in full bloom bearing large red spiky like flowers. The blazing red flowers of pōhutukawa around Christmas time have earned this tree the title of New Zealand's Christmas tree. When the
Pōhutukawa hold a prominent place in Maori mythology. Legends tell of the young Maori 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.
Possibly the most famous pōhutukawa in Maori legend is a small, wind-beaten tree clinging to the cliff face near Cape Reinga. The 800-year-old tree is reputed to guard the entrance to a sacred cave through which disembodied spirits pass on their way to the next world.
Back In 1990 up to 90% of coastal pōhutukawa stands were gone. Since then the Department of Conservation & Project Crimson have planted more than 300,000 native trees with a focus on pōhutukawa and rātā. These well known New Zealand trees now have a better outlook but still need our help to protect them.
Pōhutukawa are threatened by the possum, with its voracious appetite for green leaves, buds and young shoots, eating many of these trees to death. People also damage trees by using their branches for firewood, lighting fires under them and parking cars on their roots.
Animals browse on young trees and the forest under-storey that offers protection and nourishment. Weeds and grasses often prevent regeneration by smothering young seedlings.
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