Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: Rātā flowering

with 22 comments

The 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 flowering rātā trees when we drove west on SH 73 through the mountains across New Zealand’s South Island on February 16th, and sure enough, as we approached Arthur’s Pass we began to see some at a distance on the mountain slopes.

Southern Rata Tree Flowering 4888

At the pass itself we got a closer and brighter look at a few, which I take to be southern rātā, Metrosideros umbellata.

Southern Rata Flowers 4866

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 12, 2015 at 5:36 AM

22 Responses

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  1. Magnificent. I am thrilled you managed to get these lovely photos. Here’s a link to the Margaret Stoddard painting of the rata at Otira. https://silkannthreades.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/5963/otira-stream/


    April 12, 2015 at 5:44 AM

    • I’d forgotten that Margaret Stoddard’s painting of the rātā flowering showed them along an Otira stream, and in looking online now I realize that the SH 73 viaduct adjacent to which we stopped so I could take these photographs is known as the Otira Viaduct.

      I wish the density of flowering rātās had been more like that in the painting, and I wish I could’ve gotten closer to the dome of the tree in the first photograph, but there wasn’t an easy (i.e. safe) way to walk there from the parking area. Nevertheless, even when I think of all the pictures I might have gotten if I’d had better timing and more time, I’m thankful for my pro rata share.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 12, 2015 at 7:23 AM

      • I suppose the density varies from year to year. Margaret Stoddard may have struck a particularly good rata season, or she may have used some artistic licence to achieve that density. I have no idea. Either way, your photo and her painting show us how beautiful is the rata. I am also thankful for your pro rata share.


        April 12, 2015 at 8:18 AM

        • One of the early lessons I learned when I began photographing native plants in central Texas was that a species could be fantastic at a certain place and time but practically non-existent in the same place exactly a year later. Such variability is at the heart of the science of statistics, and as a nature photographer I’ve learned to expect it and to live with it. When great displays are absent, I ratify the worth of the individual. In the long term, the rate at which I do closeups is much greater than the rate at which I record vast displays, which is to say that the ratio is much greater than 1.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 12, 2015 at 9:58 AM

  2. So pretty. It looks as though there might be another rātā beginning to flower, in the lower right. I think I see a couple of smaller ones on the left, too. From above, their broccoli-like crowns make them at least a little easier to pick out, even when not blooming.


    April 12, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    • You’re right about those beginning-to-flower rātās, and I have to imagine that in the days or weeks after I was there the hills were alive with the red of rātās. I didn’t see the resemblance to broccoli till you pointed it out. Now if I could only get our broccoli to put out bright red flowers I’d really be onto something. Maybe in an alternate universe.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 12, 2015 at 7:55 AM

  3. That is very striking, blooming against the hillside. It reminds me of brocade.


    April 12, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    • I had to remind myself of what brocade is, and I found that the Wikipedia article about it begins like this:

      Brocade is a class of richly decorative shuttle-woven fabrics, often made in colored silks and with or without gold and silver threads. The name, related to the same root as the word “broccoli”, comes from Italian broccato meaning “embossed cloth”, originally past participle of the verb broccare “to stud, set with nails”, from brocco, “small nail”, from Latin broccus, “projecting, pointed”.

      Maybe you can do a painting of flowering rātā trees in which you make them look like brocade. That could even be an incentive for you to visit New Zealand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 12, 2015 at 10:06 AM

  4. They really do stand out against the greenery. We don’t have them here much in the Hawke’s Bay

    Raewyn's Photos

    April 12, 2015 at 5:27 PM

    • But I’ll bet you have your share of pōhutukawas to bring red to the green at the end of the year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 12, 2015 at 7:16 PM

  5. Green and red is always a good combination. It’s nice you were able to show us them opened. The upper clump of them is definitely red but not as brilliantly until seen close up…just like with most flowers.

    Steve Gingold

    April 13, 2015 at 2:41 PM

    • At first I thought I wasn’t going to get any closeups because the trees were on the slopes of the mountains, but in the end I found one tree close to the parking lot, and that’s the one in the second picture. I wish I could have gotten closer to the dome of the tree in the first picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 13, 2015 at 4:26 PM

  6. Reminds me of our Rhodora, although its flowers are pink. Nice photo! Jane

    jane tims

    April 13, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    • And you’ve reminded me of Emerson’s poem entitled “The Rhodora”:

      On Being Asked, Whence Is the Flower?

      In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
      I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
      Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
      To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
      The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
      Made the black water with their beauty gay;
      Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
      And court the flower that cheapens his array.
      Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
      This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
      Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
      Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
      Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
      I never thought to ask, I never knew:
      But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
      The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 13, 2015 at 4:30 PM

      • Hi. I have never seen this poem before! Thank you. Rhodora is lovely, but mostly unnoticed. Jane

        jane tims

        April 13, 2015 at 5:20 PM

        • You’re welcome. I’m not familiar with the Rhodora plant, which I’ve learned is a kind of rhododendron, but for a long time I’ve known the famous line in this poem: Beauty is its own excuse for being. Maybe you can make more people aware of the plant and its pretty flowers.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 13, 2015 at 6:21 PM

  7. I was delighted to see these two photographs of New Zealand’s native flowering trees. Thank you for sharing this small piece of New Zealand’s magnificent botanical beauty with us. We have always enjoyed our visits to this magical place, deep in the South Pacific.

    Mary Mageau

    April 13, 2015 at 6:22 PM

    • You’re welcome. You can see that I was taken with New Zealand, and I’m glad that you get to use the plural and speak of your visits there. Maybe someday I’ll turn my singular into a plural too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 13, 2015 at 6:25 PM

  8. […] LINK:   New Zealand: Rātā flowering […]

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