Maori Name: Pohutukawa
Common Name: NZ Christmas Tree
Botanical Name: Metrosideros excelsa
This iconic New Zealand tree has become an important symbol for New Zealanders and it often features on greeting cards, artworks, poems and songs. Pohutukawa's scientific name, Metrosideros, is derived from the Greek words metro, meaning middle and sideros meaning iron, referring to the hardness of its dark red heart wood.
The pohutukawa is well known for its spreading shape and distinctive red flowers in December and January. Slow growing, pohutukawa eventually reach 15-20 metres in height. Short trunks to 2 metres in diameter often have thick, twisted roots looking more like branches helping it cling to coastal cliffs where it thrives withstanding wind, salt spray and drought. The leaves are greenish blue on top and white underneath. White seed capsules follow the flowers and open around May to release multitudes of thin, brown seeds.
- It was traditionally used for paddles, weapons, digging sticks and spade blades.
- The nectar was collected for food and to treat sore throats.
- Early European bushmen made an infusion (tea) from the inner layers of the bark to cure dysentery and diarrhoea.
- It was used in bearings and machine beds due to its hardness.
- The kinked branches and roots were prized by European settlers for stems and knees in boatbuilding.
- E hoa. Rukea atu to kura. Ka nui te kura kei uta a ngangahu mai neiO friend throw away your red feather head-dress! There are many red plumes dancing on the shore. A proverb which is similar to the English “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”. Wait before making conclusions or they may be false. refers to an incident that occurred when the Tainui canoe arrived from Hawaiki to the east coast of New Zealand when the Pohutukawa flowers were flowering in the months of December and January. The tohunga on the canoe wore a red topknot or decoration made from red feathers of a bird on his head, a feature of status. The guardian threw away his prized red feathers, but was disillusioned when it was discovered that the red plumes were flowers which quickly dropped and discoloured in the sun. From Plant Heirtage by Tony Foster.
- A revered pohutukawa at Cape Reinga the northernmost tip of New Zealand, is reputed to have been there for more than 800 years and is sacred to the Maori people as the departure point of the spirit from this world to their traditional homeland of Hawaiiki. This windswept pohutukawa marks the spot known as Te Rerenga Wairua ‘the place of leaping’. It is from here that the spirits of the dead begin their journey leaping off the headland and climbing down the gnarled, twisted roots of the tree, descending into the underworld for their return journey.
The cabinet draws its inspiration from:
- A boat knee form.
- A swing hanging from a tree.
- A coffin or casket signifying death.
- The twisted roots of the pohutukawa reaching for the ground, perhaps leading to the underworld as in the story of the Place of Leaping.