August 21, 2017

A Middle Earth Present

Plants from Middle Earth

Garden Maine’s New Zealand Extravaganza – Celebrating a Completely Unexpected Journey

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa flowers in New Zealand

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa flowers in New Zealand

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa tree at Queen Elizabeth Park at Paekakariki

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa tree at Queen Elizabeth Park at Paekakariki

Editor’s Note: On this day of the North American premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” we have three stories from one place in New Zealand: Queen Elizabeth Park in Paekakariki on the North Island, courtesy of Pamela Rogers of New Zealand. The Daily Plant features the stunning Pohutukawa tree, known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree. After seeing the above photo, could you doubt why? Also at the park and Whareroa Farm are tributes to U.S. Marines who were at both sites during World War II from 1942 to 1943. You can read a bit about that here. And finally, there once was a lad named Peter Jackson who grew up near here and used the park and nearby land in parts of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, for Pelennor fields battle scenes. You can read Pamela’s short piece on that here.

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa tree detail

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa tree detail

• By Pamela Rogers •

The pohutukawa is the Maori name for Metrosideros excelsa. It is a relative of the northern rata (M. robusta) and the southern rata (M. umbellata). It is colloquially known as New Zealand’s Christmas Tree, as from mid-November through Christmas its bright red flowers begin to open.

It is a many-trunked tree, growing up to 60 feet in height. Trunks can attain 4 feet in diameter. On older trees, aerial roots are readily produced on the trunks, growing to the ground, or “hanging like straw brooms from higher branches.”

The leaves are 2-5 inches long and 1-2 inches wide and have a dense covering of white hairs below.

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa cultivar 'Aurea' was discovered in 1940 growing on an island in the Bay of Plenty

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa cultivar ‘Aurea’ was discovered in 1940 growing on an island in the Bay of Plenty

As flowers produce a lot of nectar, they are attractive to birds and insects. In autumn following flowering (March through May), thread-like seeds are released.

Because it can be easily trained to go into a bush or hedge shape, it is a popular sight in home gardens. It is also widely used in public spaces – small parks, schools, municipal plantings, roadsides, beach walkways, even supermarket carparks will all have a pohutukawa or three.

Rata are more frequently found in native forests, or formal collections of native plantings. Unlike the pohutukawa it does not flower annually; its flowers are red but smaller. It is not normally grown in residential gardens. The rata can grow over 75 feet.

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa cultivar ‘Aurea’ flower bud detail

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa cultivar ‘Aurea’ flower bud detail

The pohutukawa and the rata are both under threat in the natural environment, mainly from possums. Their natural habitat is the coastal region of the upper North Island. Those you see in areas like the one I live in have been planted. To help save these important trees, the Project Crimson Trust was put in place. The Trust has done some essential work in helping to re-establish both the pohutukawa and the rata in their natural enviroments. More on the Trust can be found here.

Information sources from: Natural Guide to New Zealand Forest – John Dawson and Rob Lucas (Auckland, 2004); The Complete New Zealand Gardener – A Practical Guide by Geoff Bryant and Eion Scarrow (Auckland 2001

Information about the medicinal uses of pohutukawa here. Information about the rata here.

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa cultivar ‘Aurea’ flower detail

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa cultivar ‘Aurea’ flower detail

Information about the pohutukawa in New Zealand culture and its significance to Maori culture here.

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Photographs kindly provided by Pamela Rogers of the Kapiti Coast, in December 2012. For a bit more about Pamela, click to read here.

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“New Zealand’s flora is described as being unique due to our long isolation many thousands of years ago. We have some 2,357 different plant species and approximately 80% of them are endemic, meaning they don’t occur anywhere else in the world.”

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa surrounded by other native species such as the flax, the cabbage tree and the manuka

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa surrounded by other native species such as the flax, the cabbage tree and the manuka

– From the Auckland Botanic Gardens website

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How did all this come about? You can read about how Janine Pineo of Garden Maine found Anna Paton, more than 9,000 miles away, as the crow flies. If a crow could fly 9,000 miles like that. Click here for that story.

 

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa

Pamela Rogers Photo | Pohutukawa