Did you know?

Pohutukawa, northern and southern rata all have heavy, hard, strong wood that was often used in ship-building in early times in New Zealand

In the past these trees were favourites for firewood!

Pohutukawa and rata make fine bush honey

Maori have traditionally had a range of medicinal uses for both pohutukawa and rata. Uses include dysentery cures, stopping bleeding and remedies for coughs and colds

Early Maori also used the flowering of pohutukawa as a seasonal sign that kina were fat and ready to eat!

There are several different ways to distinguish between a pohutukawa and a rata tree. One is to look at the leaves. Pohutukawa leaves are generally larger and darker green than northern rata and can have slightly rolled edges. The underside of a pohutukawa leave has fine white hairs whereas the northern rata leaf is glossy on both sides. Northern rata leaves also has a small notch in the tip. A pohutukawa tree flower will have more stamen, so a denser, more prolific flowers. Northern rata has less, southern rata, less again.

Hybridisation between pohutukawa and northern rata can make identification difficult. Hybridisation is common and populations can be found on the shores of the Rotorua lakes and on Rangitoto Island. Some hybrids have been developed by the nursery industry, 'Mistral' (northern rata x pohutukawa) being a good example.

A mature rata becomes heavily burdened with lianes (vines) and epiphytes such as Freycinetia and astelia, as well as ferns and mosses. The weight of these plants finally result in old rata collapsing during storms, clearing the way for new trees to grow from the forest floor

A mature pohutukawa has a different structure to rata. Generally they are multi trunked, with spreading braches. A northern rata is generally a more upright tree.

Rata that germinate on the ground grow into trees that look different to rata that germinate high among the branches of a host tree. The trunk of an epiphytic rata consists of coalesced roots coming down from above, whereas the trunk of a terrestrial rata consists of a stem(s) that grow upwards. Compared to their epiphytic siblings, rata growing on the ground can have a short, unusually crooked trunk and sprawling roots

Southern rata usually has sprays of brilliant red flowers that provide one of the most colourful displays in the New Zealand forest. However, several unusual yellow-flowering forms of southern rata are known. White, orange and pink southern rata flowers have also been observed, but these are always just scattered individual plants rather than in dense stands

Although pohutukawa flowers usually occur in a range of different reds, from a pinkish crimson to brownish red, a number of colour variations have been recorded. Unusual flower colours on record include: apricot, salmon, yellow and pink!

The flowers of rata and pohutukawa symbolise the blood of Tawhaki, a spirit ancestor who showed the way to heaven but died in the attempt. It was said that, as he fell, he plucked his eyes out and cast them onto the rata tree, where they are still seen today as its red blossoms

All the relatives of pohutukawa and rata within the Pacific Rim originated from New Zealand up to 10 million years ago. The wind dispersed the tiny seeds thousands of kilometres

Pohutukawa is considered a weed in South Africa. While we in New Zealand go to great lengths to protect the tree, it has been listed as a serious alien invader in South Africa. Stands of impenetrable pohutukawa grow at the south-western tip of the country, demonstrating the importance of planting trees in their natural environments rather than introducing them to other places