New Zealand’s Christmas Tree

One of the joys of the festive season is seeing all the pōhutukawa trees flowering. The strong green and bold red really help gives the tree its nickname as the ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’.

We often see stunning scenic shots of pōhutukawa on beaches but here in Palmy we love our pōhutukawa trees in Te Marae o Hine The Square. You can even catch a glimpse of these trees from the windows overlooking The Square on the First Floor of Central Library.

Did you know that the pōhutukawa, while a native plant of New Zealand, is actually not native to our region? Its natural habitat ranges from the North Cape to Tokomaru Bay on the east coast of the North Island, up and over o Urenui, north of New Plymouth on the west. It once formed an almost continuous band of forest along most of the northern coastline.

A map of the North Island showing the distribution of pōhutukawa. A thick red line extends from Gisboune to north of New Plymouth.
Pōhutukawa distribution, by @gallicist on Twitter.

The exact natural southern limit of pohutukawa’s original range is difficult to know because the trees have been so widely planted.

Pōhutukawa can live for hundreds of years in their natural coastal environment. While it is common to see 100-year-old trees growing in home gardens, both pōhutukawa and northern rātā (another tree known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree) can probably live up to 1000 years.

If you want to find some information on the pōhutukawa and other native trees, we have some great books in our catalogue. Search Native New Zealand Trees on the library website here. From John T Salmon’s Native trees of New Zealand to Robert Venell’s The Meaning of Trees and Andrew Crowe’s Which native tree? New Zealand native trees: a simple guide to their identification, ecology and uses, the library can help you discover more about our native taonga this summer – ideally under the shade of a blooming pōhutukawa tree.