Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The great pōhutukawa

with 26 comments

Pohutukawa Trees on Seaside Bluff 8425

Yesterday I mentioned that the pōhutukawa, Metrosideros excelsa, is one of the great indigenous trees of the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island. I meant great figuratively but also literally. Here you see a few pōhutukawas sprawling, as they’re wont to do, along a seaside bluff. It was early on the morning of February 27th, my last day in New Zealand, and I took advantage of it by spending an hour or two photographing along the shore at Little Manly Beach on the Whangaparaoa* Peninsula north of Auckland. (If you follow that link and then click on the little panoramic photo to invoke Google’s street view, you’ll be able to drag and rotate the scene 180° to get a look at the Hauraki Gulf from the road above the beach; in so doing, you’ll be looking at the upper part of the pōhutukawa trees from the opposite side. Isn’t technology wonderful?)


* In words of Māori origin, wh is pronounced f.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 12, 2015 at 5:41 AM

26 Responses

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  1. So much information to gather…So much to learn in this world. Love the detail that makes your images so engaging.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    March 12, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    • I’m still learning about some of these things after the fact, Charlie. I was often just as intrigued—maybe more so—by the little details as by the grander landscape. Most of the pictures I took on this beach that morning were closeups of rock formations, sand patterns, mosses, shells, etc.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2015 at 8:43 AM

  2. Yay!
    The page and image loaded! The tree is poetic in form and looks quite sturdy — as if it could hang tight during the toughest waves. I’ll bet the wood is very hard.

    • The pōhutukawas reminded me of the live oaks that we have in Texas, which also grow large and often sprawl, even to the point of laying branches on the ground (though I don’t associate live oaks with the shore). I assume the roots of the pōhutukawa in this picture are helping stabilize that embankment, which otherwise would keep getting eroded more quickly by the wind and waves. For more on the wood, you can check out

      Click to access pohutukawa.pdf

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2015 at 8:49 AM

      • Along the mid-coast (Rockport, Fulton and areas just north and south) there are wonderful oaks that grow right up to the shore. They aren’t as large as these, of course, partly because the wind ensures that they increase in girth rather than height. But they are delightful to see. Right in the middle of all that is the great Goose Island Oak.

        None of that’s to take anything away from these pohutukawa. They’re magnificent. I especially like the way the branches curve upward, as if avoiding the water. “As if” is key, of course. I read that they are quite salt tolerant, like our salt grass, and will even dip their toes in the salt water from time to time.


        March 12, 2015 at 8:40 PM

        • If I visited the Texas coast more often, I might know about oaks that grow on the shore. Hmmm: maybe that’s a sign I should go. Actually, now that I see your link to the Goose Island Oak, I think I may once have been aware of it, even though I haven’t been there.

          As you see here, pōhutukawas can be even more massive than the largest live oaks, which is saying a lot.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 12, 2015 at 9:17 PM

  3. Loving your linguistic additions here 🙂


    March 12, 2015 at 8:31 AM

    • Before I left on this trip, a linguist friend of mine who spent a year in New Zealand half a century earlier (exactly) told me about the f pronunciation of wh in Māori words. While visiting a historic house in Kerikeri I saw an old document written in French (the French also wanted to colonize New Zealand) in which words that the English transcribed with wh were transcribed with f. The sound apparently had elements of both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2015 at 8:58 AM

  4. Oh my word, I had no idea about these trees! I love New Zealand because of its landscape and culture, and now because of the trees haha


    March 12, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    • Until I started research for my trip, I hadn’t heard of the pōhutukawa either. Yes, New Zealand is a great place to visit for its landscape and culture, and I’m certainly glad I finally went.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2015 at 10:12 AM

      • Do you think you’ll visit again? It’s a long way for me to travel but I loved it so much!


        March 12, 2015 at 10:21 AM

        • Good question. It’s a long way from Texas, too, but I also loved it and would like to go back eventually to see some of the things I missed the first time around. At the same time, there are plenty of other countries I’ve never been to that might take priority, including India, Italy, and Brazil.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 12, 2015 at 10:29 AM

  5. Great photo. There has just been a protest over a land developer who wanted to fell a 500 year old Kauri tree and 300 year old Rimu. The protester won, but at what cost – other trees will be felled instead. Your photo reminds me of our visits to the beach when I was a child. I always looked at these trees and admired how they managed to survive leaning over the cliffs like this.

    Raewyn's Photos

    March 12, 2015 at 1:34 PM

    • You’re fortunate to have grown up with these huge trees and to be able to think back on your experiences with them. I’m planning to show a venerable kauri tree in the days ahead and also the distinctive leaves of a rimu.

      Protests like the one you mentioned take place in the United States too; sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes the results are mixed (as in your case). Many large trees were felled when this country got developed, and unfortunately the consciousness of their historical value arose after many of them were already gone.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2015 at 3:33 PM

  6. wow !


    March 12, 2015 at 3:40 PM

  7. My love of the pohutukawa started with my first trip to New Zealand around 1987 and has grown with each subsequent visit. They perch on the clifftops like Snoopy on the roof of his doghouse, pretending to be a vulture, and seem able to withstand the ravages of seaborn wind and weather, as they’ve been practicing this art for many millenia. Truly the stuff of inspiration.


    March 12, 2015 at 7:37 PM

    • And I was truly inspired by it, as you can tell from this picture. I also paid attention to the smaller scale, photographing pōhutukawa roots and trunk and bark. I wish I had the extra few decades of exposure that you have.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2015 at 9:02 PM

  8. I didn’t realise that there is such a variety of pohutukawa and rata; some are very suitable for urban gardens. Perhaps I should treat myself to a rata next Christmas.http://www.gogardening.co.nz/magazine/10-0-1119/natives-nz-christmas-trees


    March 12, 2015 at 7:54 PM

    • Go for it: the more natives, the better, I always say. Like you, I had no idea that there are as many cultivars as appear in your linked page.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2015 at 9:10 PM

  9. I enjoy seeing trees and plants that are able to hang on to the edges of cliffs and eroded soils. It is impressive when one considers the trees that are blown over in other situations where they have solid, although sometimes shallow, footing.

    Steve Gingold

    March 14, 2015 at 5:21 PM

    • That’s a good contrast you make between the seemingly stable that gets toppled and the precarious that somehow manages to weather the storm.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2015 at 8:51 PM

  10. Magnificent.


    March 15, 2015 at 10:25 PM

    • The closest thing I know here is the live oak, which grows huge and has a habit of sprawling.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2015 at 6:30 AM

  11. […] genus Metrosideros includes not only the pōhutukawa tree but also the rātā tree, of which there are two species. Gallivanta had told us to look for […]

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