Metrosideros excelsa

Metrosideros excelsa– Pohutukawa

Spectacular red flowers are made up of a mass of stamens.


Can grow up to 25M tall, this is the iconic New Zealand Christmas Tree. It’s peak flowering time is late December. There are many garden varieties and it is genetically variable in the wild. Naturally occurring flower colour varies from crimson, through claret, to pink. It usually grows as a multi-trunked, spreading tree. On ancient trees the trunk and branches can be covered with matted, fibrous, aerial roots.


Pohutukawa come originally from coastal areas of the North Island of New Zealand, and around the shores of Lake Rotorua. It would once have formed an almost continuous band around the coast of the North Island. It is an early coloniser of volcanic lava plains. The hard, heavy wood was widely used by Maori for hand tools and ship building – sideron is Greek for iron.

Soil / Aspect:

Pohutukawa prefers coastal sites. It tolerates, and even prefers, to have its roots in salty ground water. Plant in well drained soil in full sun. Now that these trees are no longer being cleared for farming their main threat seems to be from possum, that enjoy the leaves to an extent that will kill the tree. If Myrtle Rust, Pohutukawa are in the Myrtacea family, reaches Tasman then that would be a major problem.


In a garden context the main challenge is to keep this tree down to a manageable size. This is done by pruning after flowering. Fortunately, like so many New Zealand trees, Pohutukawa are slow growing. The surface roots spread out to the drip-line, so probably best not to try and lift the lower branches with a view to underplanting – prune it to grow as a bush in a small garden.