Sum­mer ablaze — the po­hutukawa

Whanganui Midweek - - News - With Gareth Carter

I will cau­tiously say that we are hav­ing a great sum­mer and that it is be­ing en­joyed by most peo­ple in our re­gion.

The farm­ers are happy (as happy as they ever can be) as reg­u­lar rain­fall has brought on plenty of grass and there­fore feed for their stock. Those seek­ing camp­ing hol­i­days and trips to the beach have been re­warded with sun­shine and warm tem­per­a­tures. And in the gar­den the com­bi­na­tion of warmth and rain is bring­ing tremen­dous growth and gar­dens are look­ing good with great bloom­ing com­ing forth on sum­mer flow­er­ing plants.

The hot sunny weather is prov­ing spec­tac­u­lar for silk and jacaranda trees. Climb­ing bougainvil­lea, and man­dev­il­lea too, are thriv­ing in the heat.

Po­hutukawa trees are also putting on a spec­tac­u­lar bloom­ing dis­play. One of the great im­ages of the Kiwi sum­mer are flow­er­ing po­hutukawa trees. We have some re­ally good spec­i­mens grow­ing around our city and they are dis­play­ing their stun­ning flo­ral beauty well with their deep crim­son flow­ers.

Po­hutukawa have be­come pop­u­lar among many home gar­den­ers. When New Zealand was set­tled by Euro­peans they were found close to the coastal ar­eas of the North Is­land. From the Three Kings Is­lands south­wards to Poverty Bay on the east coast and around the mouth of the Ureaui River, just north of Waitara on the west coast. They also grew along the shores of some of the lakes in the Ro­torua dis­trict. Since then many species have been ex­ten­sively planted in many parts of New Zealand and have been used as street trees in cities in­clud­ing Whanganui. Many have also been planted in parks and gar­dens.

The largest po­hutukawa in New Zealand, Te Waha Rerekohu, is at Te Araroa, is said to be about 600 years old and has a height of nearly 20m and a spread of al­most 40m.

We can also see good spec­i­mens in and around Nel­son, on Banks Penin­su­lar and as far south as Dunedin on the east and Jack­son’s Bay on the west coast of the South Is­land. It is well known that the po­hutukawa grows best by the sea. The fa­mil­iar species Met­rosideros Ex­celsa is com­monly re­ferred to as the New Zealand Christ­mas tree. The Ma¯ ori name po­hutukawa, “drenched with spray”, refers to the way these ro­bust trees cling to rocky cliffs and en­dure wild ocean storms. It can grow into a fairly mas­sive spread­ing tree that over­hangs the wa­ter, the huge branches grow­ing out al­most hor­i­zon­tally, form­ing deep roots that en­able the tree to cling to steep banks and rocks.

Po­hutukawa trees of­ten have ae­rial roots grow­ing from low branches or the trunk. They can form a tan­gled mat or net and may join around the trunk or branch from which they arise. Only the larger roots may reach the ground.

The old­est and finest po­hutukawa trees can be seen around the Coro­man­del Penin­sula on the coast and also near Opotiki and Ohope Beach in the Bay of Plenty and the East Cape coast road.

The key fea­ture is the vivid sum­mer dis­play dur­ing De­cem­ber and Jan­uary when the tree is of­ten com­pletely smoth­ered with its or­ange scar­let to deep crim­son flow­ers. These com­prise dense clus­tered sta­mens which open from pow­dery buds to­tally cov­er­ing the tree. Fallen sta­mens can lay a red car­pet on the ground. Many birds are at­tracted to po­hutukawa flow­ers be­cause of the avail­abil­ity of co­pi­ous nec­tar. These trees are per­fect in many land­scap­ing sit­u­a­tions, ob­vi­ously a good first choice as a front line sea­side plant against pre­vail­ing strong salt laden winds. In Whanganui they can be planted in most sandy to heavy clay free drain­ing soil that has been deeply worked and en­riched with or­ganic com­post in a full or par­tial sun po­si­tion. Mulch 50mm to 75mm and wa­ter dur­ing dry pe­ri­ods while the trees are be­com­ing es­tab­lished. Once es­tab­lished the trees are drought re­sis­tant. Po­hutukawa nor­mally branch from the ground but a sin­gle trunk can be formed with care­ful prun­ing and stak­ing. As a hedge or screen, reg­u­lar trim­ming en­cour­ages and main­tains the de­sired size to form an al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble bar­rier. Most species are fairly hardy but ju­ve­nile growth needs pro­tec­tion un­til well es­tab­lished with adult fo­liage.

Po­hutukawa also make good tub or con­tainer spec­i­mens for court­yard, pa­tio or deck sit­u­a­tions. They do well for sev­eral years be­fore re­quir­ing re­pot­ting or plant­ing out. Most po­hutukawa va­ri­eties re­spond very well to be­ing trimmed and can be kept sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than their growth po­ten­tial by an an­nual prune.

The most com­monly planted larger grow­ing va­ri­ety is Met­rosideros Ma¯ ori Princess. It is what we would all recog­nise as the iconic tra­di­tional po­hutukawa with spec­tac­u­lar, deep crim­son red flow­ers from De­cem­ber on­wards into sum­mer.

Met­rosideros Spring­fire is an early flow­er­ing va­ri­ety which has more or­ange-red coloured flow­ers from spring to early sum­mer. It grows to about 4m high by 3m wide.

Met­rosider­ous Kawa Cop­per is a re­cently re­leased va­ri­ety that is a cross with the north­ern rata. As well as deep red flow­ers it also boasts at­trac­tively cop­pery coloured new fo­liage. It grows about 2.5m high by 2m wide.

Met­rosideros Ker­made­cen­sis Var­ie­gata is a fine com­pact var­ie­gated form ex­tremely hardy to coastal con­di­tions and an ideal tub plant. The fo­liage is broadly margined creamy yel­low and pro­vides a gar­den with dis­tinct colour. Some good spec­i­mens are along the GF Moore Drive en­trance­way to Spring­vale Park in Whanganui. These be­gan as 150mm high plants in the gar­dens in front of the Me­mo­rial Hall fore­court and were suc­cess­fully trans­planted to their cur­rent site in the 1970s by parks per­son­nel when they were deemed too large for the gar­dens.

Met­rosideros Tahiti is a good dwarf form of po­hutukawa ideal for small gar­dens. It forms a beau­ti­ful shrub that grows about 1m. It pro­duces bril­liant red flow­ers from win­ter through spring and at other times of the year. The new shoots through win­ter are also very at­trac­tive.

Have a great week — slip, slop, slap, wear your sun­hat and en­joy the weather and your gar­den.

Gareth Carter is gen­eral man­ager of Spring­vale Gar­den Cen­tre

One of the great im­ages of the Kiwi sum­mer are flow­er­ing po­hutukawa trees.

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