Pohutukawa holds a prominent place in Māori tradition. Legends tell of Tawhaki, a young Māori warrior, who attempted to find heaven to seek help in avenging the death of his father. He fell to earth and the crimson flowers are said to represent his blood.
For Māori, the small, venerated pohutukawa is known as “the place of leaping”. It’s from here that the spirits of the dead begin their journey to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki. From this point, the spirits leap off the headland and climb down the roots of the 800-year-old tree, descending into the underworld on their return journey.
The Magic of Pohutukawa
An infusion of the inner bark was traditionally used to allay the bleeding of wounds and used as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentery. It was also used for treating thrush of the mouth and venereal disease. The flowers were used to treat sore throat and yield a lot of honey.
When young, pohutukawa makes good container specimens. It’s best planted in large gardens and exposed coastal areas and used as a specimen tree screen, an informal hedge, or for added interest in mix planting.
Things To Remember:
Pohutukawa prefers well-draining soils and open positions but will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and strong winds. It’s frost tender when young.
Plant pohutukawa after autumn rains as the soil is moist and warm and allows trees and shrubs to become established before winter. This enables them to withstand dry periods during the following summer.
Planting success is often improved on clay soils by adding extra topsoil and raising beds. Incorporate coarse sand bark compost or other organic material to improve soil structure.
Young plants require thorough watering during dry periods over the first two or three years. Mulching helps to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
Tall plants and those in windy positions require staking to stabilize the root ball until established. Position the stakes in the hole before planting and place the plant between them. Use wide ties that hold securely without chafing ties firmly but allow room for the trunk to increase in girth without constriction. This allows the plant to move a little in the wind encouraging the development of a strong root system without the risk of chafing or root damage.