Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsa).
This is the best known of New Zealand coastal trees because of its attractive wide-spreading habit and the profusion of red flowers it bears about Christmas time. Although confined naturally to the Three Kings, the North Island coast down to Poverty Bay and Urenui, and the shores of lakes on the volcanic plateau, the tree is widely planted even well south of these limits.
It grows to 60 ft high and the trunk, which divides early, is some 6 ft through at the base. Masses of small fibrous roots sometimes hang down from the lower branches. The leaves are 1–3 in. long, elliptic, and covered below with a tight mat of hairs. Flowers are borne in terminal cymes. The buds are whitish before they break and the numerous stamens, which give the flower its colour, are shades of crimson and red. The capsules contain numerous tiny seeds which germinate on damp clay or in rock crevices.
The genus Metrosideros contains other outstanding native trees, in particular the northern and southern ratas, M. robusta and M. umbellata. It belongs to the myrtle family containing eucalypts which are the main natural foods of the Australian opossum. In New Zealand this animal feeds on pohutukawas and destroys some.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.