Thu 25 Oct 2018

Christmas is here - sort of

Readers of Fairfax publications this week will have noted a story from Auckland celebrating the early blooming of a pohutukawa.

Rebecca Moore reported trees were in flower as a consequence of a warm winter.

At WITT, though, it’s Christmas for much of the year from the perspective of one of the many trees on its Bell St campus in New Plymouth.

This pohutukawa, next to F-block, is preparing for its full summer show, but the first flowers are already here – and they also adorn the tree long after others have shed their red blossoms.

Project Crimson trust member David Bergin said longer flowering times can indicate a hybrid, and some exotic Metrosideros can flower over many months.

But he says the WITT tree appears to be a mainland pohutukawa.

He says while NZ Plant Conservation Network reports the main period flowering for pohutukawa is November and December, some flower from August to March.

It appears WITT has been blessed with one which falls into the latter category.

Pohutukawa grows any many countries, and Project Crimson, the New Zealand organisation which promotes the tree, reports all the relatives of pohutukawa and rata within the Pacific Rim originated from New Zealand up to 10 million years ago.

One, in La Coruña, Spain, is purportedly 500 years old and has sparked debate about how it got there.

But it is not loved everywhere – and presents a classic example of the problems associated with placing flora and fauna in a foreign environment.

Almost 5000 pohutukawas were planted in San Francisco – and 25 years later the “New Zealand Christmas trees” are branded in the US as a cursed relic of the 1980s because they are wrecking sewer lines and pavements.

Pohutukawa is considered a weed in South Africa and listed as a serious alien invader.

It would be nice to swap their unwanted pohutukawa for the South African praying mantis, a cannibal which has been an unwelcome guest in New Zealand since 1978, elbowing their native cousins into oblivion – but sadly nature doesn’t work like that.