Sunshine, summer and coastlines decorated with trees of red and green. Not exactly the snowy reindeer and mistletoe filled Christmases of the Northern Hemisphere, the festive season in our corner of the world is all about getting outdoors and heading to the beach side. Nothing symbolises this quite like the Pohutukawa, our iconic New Zealand Christmas tree.
Stroll any North Island beach during the Christmas season and you'll be struck by these gnarly trees with their blaze of crimson flowers. Hanging onto rocks, cliff faces and any other ground they can find, these are hardy trees that can grow in some pretty tough conditions.
Fittingly for a tree that lines our coast, Pohutukawa in Maori means 'sprinkled by spray'. For us Kiwis it's when they start flowering in November and December that we know summer and Christmas are just around the corner.
Winding back a few centuries, the Pohutukawa has long held spiritual significance for Maori. The Pohutukawa is seen to connect the beginning and end of human life. Legend has it that the Pohutukawa's crimson flowers represent the blood of the Maori warrior Tawhaki, after falling to earth while attempting to find heaven to avenge his father's death.
If you're visiting New Zealand's northernmost tip Cape Reinga (a stunning spot), sharp eyes might pick out Aotearoa's best-known Pohutukawa tree. A place of great significance for Maori – the 'place of leaping' is marked by a gnarled, twisted Pohuhtukawa hanging off the cliff's edge. This dramatic site is believed by Maori to be the place at death where one's spirit makes it's way back to Hawaiki, their traditional homeland.
If you need another reason to look out for this iconic tree then remember you won't find it anywhere else in the world. Well, nearly. Some San Francisco Pohutukawa admirers in the 80s thought it was a good idea to plant a few, or 5000, trees around the city – which grew a little too well, destroying pavements and sewage pipes!
Like a huge 80% of our plant species, the Pohutukawa is endemic or unique to New Zealand. Entirely separate from any other continent since 85 million years ago (think dinosaur period) it's not surprising that New Zealand has a huge variety of trees and shrubs you'll only find here.
While others may be hunting out fir trees for their Christmas, we'll happily take the preferred kiwi option of lazing on the beach under our majestic Pohutukawa trees, their scarlet flowers and waxy green leaves a favourite reminder of just what season it is.