Growing and caring for pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa)

Pohutukawa belongs to the Myrtaceae family and scientifically known as Metrosideros excelsa , it is a fast-growing and abundant flowering tree that turns red in spring.

Baptized by the Maori of New Zealand, from where it originates, as pohutukawa , the first specimen named in Europe is found in Spain, specifically in the Genoves Park in the city of Cádiz, considered a centenary tree.

There is also a specimen in the courtyard of the local Monte Alto police station in A Coruña, which according to locals and New Zealand botanist Warwick Harris,  could be more than 400 years old and, if true, would turn the history of the discovery by the Dutch Tasman and the English Cook from New Zealand, supporting Winston Cowie’s theory that the Spanish and Portuguese were the first to arrive.

Historical curiosities aside, we will always be grateful to whoever brought us from the antipodes this wonderful tree and so easy to grow in our gardens.


Pohutukawa ( Metrosideros excelsa ) is one of approximately 50 known species in the genus Metrosideros . It is located in the coastal areas of New Zealand , although it has adapted very well in countries with temperate or subtropical climates.

Its name Metrosideros, comes from the Greek and means “iron heartwood”, a name given by the considerable hardness of its wood and it is commonly called an iron tree.


Its bearing is bushy and highly branched. Over time it can grow into a tree up to 20 meters high, forming a very short and thick trunk and a canopy that is paralyzed, although somewhat irregular. On the branches of the oldest specimens, very fibrous, reddish hanging aerial roots grow.

The youngest branches are covered with a fine white or grayish hair that disappears as they mature. Both the trunk and the oldest branches are reddish in color and show visible cracks in the bark.


Pohutukawa is an evergreen tree , with opposite, oblong leaves, with a smooth margin and a sharp or pointed apex.

Very bright olive green on the upper surface and whitish on the underside. Thick and leathery in consistency, its midrib is whitish and very visible on the underside, unlike its secondary veins, which are barely perceptible.


It blooms in spring in showy and abundant inflorescences composed of five petals from which a tight group of fine filaments of a striking red color emerge, at the end of which the pollen is housed.

They are hermaphrodite flowers that, when fertilized, produce the fruits, small woody capsules that house the seeds. The Maori name for the flowers of Metrosideros excelsa is kahika .



Metrosideros excelsa grows well in temperate climates , where the minimum temperature is not lower than 5 ° C since it does not withstand frost or too intense heat, especially when it is young.

It likes the coastal areas , being able to grow on steep cliffs clinging to rocks. It supports salinity and coastal winds very well, so it can grow perfectly on the beachfront as a windbreak hedge.

It is a very resistant tree that is not affected by diseases or typical pests of garden plants, so its care is very simple.


Pohutukawa is happy in full sun environments , although it can also be in semi-shade as long as the hours of sun exposure are more, and it can be grown in the soil of gardens and parks or in large pots.

It can be shaped into a hedge , since it supports pruning very well, although if we let it grow individually it becomes a good shade tree.


During the colder months, watering has to be moderate, being unnecessary if the rain is frequent. In summer, especially when temperatures are higher, it will be convenient to water two to three times a week.

This species is quite resistant to drought, so we recommend watering only when the substrate is partially dry.


The needs of Metrosideros excelsa in terms of the substrate are not too demanding. It will suffice with a soil that is somewhat fertile or a universal substrate in the case of being in pots. In both cases, it must have good drainage to avoid unwanted flooding .

Once a year it is convenient to fertilize the land with some organic or slow release fertilizer , the ideal time is towards the end of winter to provide the necessary nutrients when it resumes its growth and begins flowering.


Although it can be reproduced by cuttings from young branches, it is quite difficult to get them to root. On the other hand, it is very easy to obtain it by means of fresh seeds sown in spring.

If we want to transplant from a pot to a larger one or to a definitive location in the ground, we must do it during the spring when there is no longer the risk of frost.


Pohutukawa is a tree that lends itself very well to pruning , although the best time to prune if we want to shape it as a hedge is at the beginning of spring .

If we do it before flowering, it will most likely not flower, so it is advisable to prune after flowering.


The Maori used the bark and nectar of pohutukawa flowers, for their astringent properties , as a remedy to calm coughs and heal wounds.

The wood , which is very hard and consistent, was made into small tools and paddles. For them it is also a revered tree, according to the Maori tradition, in Cape Reinga, there is a specimen of more than 800 years that is in charge of protecting the entrance of a sacred cave that is the door that spirits go through on their journey to the other world.

The flowering of this shrub in New Zealand has its peak between November and January (summer in the southern hemisphere) and as it turns red thanks to its flowers, it is considered the Christmas tree by New Zealanders. 

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