Photographer's Note

This is New Zealand’s Christmas Tree, now out in flower. It is the Pohutukawa Tree (Metrosideros excelsa). Pohutukawa [po-hoo-too-car-wa] means "splashed by spray" or ‘drenched with mist’ in Maori.

The pohutukawa is one of the most spectacular trees of the world. These great trees with their masses of scarlet bloom, will reach a height of over 20m and a spread of 13m. The Pohutukawa Tree is wider than it is tall. It grows to 20 meters high by 35 meters wide —22 yards high and 38 wide. Lots of long, low branches hang over the sand. They provide shade and great places to sit, climb and hang beach towels.

Around Christmas-time it smothers itself with masses of brilliant crimson to deep blood-red flowers. Pohutukawa flowers appear to be composed only of stamens, giving them their distinctive brush-like look. The petals are small and hairy-backed, the most conspicuous part of the flower being the crimson-stalked stamens which may reach 5cm in length. Each ring of stamens surrounds a calyx funnel filled to overflowing with viscous nectar that is much sought after by honeybees and birds. Flowers appear in December and January and whitish seed capsules follow the flowers and open around May to release multitudes of thin, brown seeds which ripen by the following spring.

The leaves are paired, and arranged in four rows on the stem. They are deep green and leathery, shiny on top, with a thick white tomentum underneath. The flower clusters appear on the ends of branchlets, with many brilliant red stamens, like a soft brush, tipped with yellow anthers. Birds love the flowers as they are full of nectar. When the stamens fall they form a soft red carpet under the tree.

The trees in this photo are at the beach reserve at Murrays Bay on the North Shore of Auckland. Those 12 –14 trunks coming out of the ground in the centre (yes, I know it is in the centre, but I did want to get it all in the shot) belong to just 2 trees. The blooms open up on the trees at different times and it means that the flowering season can last quite a while. This year is a very windy year, so unfortunately once the plants stop flowering the flowers will drop their needle-like stamens quite quickly, colouring the ground beneath them with this lovely red haze.

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Additional Photos by Janice Dunn (Janice) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 920 W: 68 N: 1359] (4403)
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