Metrosideros excelsa, Photo: Michael Lahanas
Metrosideros excelsa (*)
Metrosideros excelsa Sol. ex Gaertn.
* Joseph Gaertner: De Fructibus et Seminibus Plantarum.... i. 172. t. 34. f. 8.
The Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) is a coastal evergreen tree in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae, that produces a brilliant display of red flowers made up of a mass of stamens. The Pōhutukawa is one of twelve Metrosideros species endemic to New Zealand. Renowned for its vibrant colour and its ability to survive even perched on rocky, precarious cliffs, it has found an important place in New Zealand culture for its strength and beauty and is regarded as a chiefly tree (rākau rangatira) by Māori.
The generic name Metrosideros derives from the Ancient Greek metra or "heartwood" and sideron or "iron". The species name excelsa is from Latin excelsus, "highest, sublime". Pōhutukawa is a Māori word. Its closest equivalent in other Polynesian langages is the Cook Island Māori word po'utukava, referring to a coastal shrub with white berries, Sophora tomentosa. The -hutu- part of the word comes from *futu, the Polynesian name for the Fish-poison tree (Barringtonia asiatica), which has flowers similar to those of the Pōhutukawa.
The natural range of the Pōhutukawa is the coastal regions of the North Island of New Zealand, north of a line stretching from New Plymouth (39° S) to Gisborne (38° S), where it once formed a continuous coastal fringe. By the 1990s pastoral farming and introduced pests had reduced Pōhutukawa forests by over 90 per cent. It also occurs naturally on the shores of lakes in the Rotorua area.
A giant Pōhutukawa at Te Araroa on the East Coast is reputed to be the largest in the country, with a height of 20 metres and a spread of 38 metres (125 ft). The tree is renowned as a cliff-dweller, able to maintain a hold in precarious, near-vertical situations. Like its Hawaiian relative the ʻōhiʻa lehua (M. polymorpha), the Pōhutukawa has shown itself to be efficient in the colonisation of lava plains – notably on Rangitoto, a volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf.
The Pōhutukawa grows up to 25 metres (82 ft) in height, with a dome-like spreading form. It usually grows as a multi-trunked spreading tree. Its trunks and branches are sometimes festooned with matted, fibrous aerial roots. The oblong, leathery leaves are covered in dense white hairs underneath.
The tree flowers from November to January with a peak in mid to late December (the southern hemisphere summer), with brilliant crimson flowers covering the tree, hence the nickname New Zealand Christmas Tree. There is variation between individual trees in the timing of flowering, and in the shade and brightness of the flowers. In isolated populations genetic drift has resulted in local variation: many of the trees growing around the Rotorua lakes produce pink-shaded flowers, and the yellow-flowered cultivar "Aurea" descends from a pair discovered in 1940 on Mōtiti Island in the Bay of Plenty.
In New Zealand, the Pōhutukawa is under threat from browsing by the introduced common brushtail possum which strips the tree of its leaves. A charitable conservation trust, Project Crimson, has the aim of reversing the decline of Pōhutukawa and other Metrosideros species - its mission statement is "to enable pohutukawa and rata to flourish again in their natural habitat as icons in the hearts and minds of all New Zealanders".
1. ^ a b c "The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, Part 2". Inset to The New Zealand Herald: p. 5. 2 March 2010.
* Simpson, P., 2005. Pōhutukawa & Rātā: New Zealand's Iron-Hearted Trees. Wellington: Te Papa Press.
* "Metrosideros excelsa". New Zealand Plant Conservation Network. http://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.asp?ID=975. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
Source: Wikipedia, Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License