The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

Wellington’s Christmas tree

by Alan on December 23, 2006 in Outdoors

northern rata: Wilton's bushWe all know and love Wellington’s Pohutukawa trees. Especially at this time of year when they come into their own, their fiery blossom earning them the title of “New Zealand’s Christmas Tree”.

What’s less well known is that they can’t really be considered the “Christmas Tree” of any area of New Zealand outside the top half of the North Island, their native range.

Instead, we should consider the Rata, Northern and Southern, for this role. Between them, they grow over all of the North Island and most lowland areas of the South Island.

Once whole forests of Rata blossomed in Wellington at Christmas. But no longer: the settlers’ fires, and latterly, the Possum, have caused an almost total decline in their population. Still, here and there remnants are to be found within the bounds of Wellington itself.

A particularly fine specimen is at this moment flowering in the Otari-Wilton’s Bush. Usually it can’t be distinguished from any other tree at a distance, but right now its splendour decorates the bushy hillside, contrasting strongly with the quiet greens of the surrounding trees.

Planting any more Pohutukawa here is not a good idea, as the Wellington Botanical Society will tell you. (One must presume there were good reasons why the Council chose Pohutukawa over Rata for their Greening the Quays project.)

So celebrate Christmas in Wellington: travel the Wellington Crimson Trail. And then plant a Rata.

Alan Macdougall

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