The initiative for Project Crimson grew out of a Forest Research Institute investigation (1989) into the health of pohutukawa. Scientists discovered that more than 90% of coastal pohutukawa stands had been eliminated. The tree had entirely disappeared in many areas along the west coast of Northland.

Disturbed by these findings, staff from Northland Department of Conservation and New Zealand Forest Products (now Carter Holt Harvey) came up with the idea of creating a community-based project to help pohutukawa. In 1990 the Project Crimson Trust came to life.

Initially focused on the pohutukawa, because this species was considered to be significantly endangered, the Trust extended its mandate in 1996 to include the pohutukawa's cousin - the rata.

While there are a number of different species of trees in the genus Metrosideros, to which pohutukawa and rata belong, Project Crimson focuses only on the mainland pohutukawa, and three tree rata: northern, southern, and Bartlett's - these species are considered to be the most threatened among Metrosideros.

Much of Project Crimson's stock was originally raised in prison nurseries. This partnership provided sound horticultural training for inmates while Project Crimson supplied community groups, schools and councils with a guaranteed stock of quality, ecologically-sourced trees.

Project Crimson’s work has captured the hearts of thousands of New Zealanders who have given their time and energy to hundreds of community and school projects to help this national icon.