|Pohutukawa, Houghton Bay|
First, the pōhutukawa. [I’m using ‘Nature Guide To The New Zealand Forest’ by John Dawson and Rob Lucas (Godwit, 2000) and Andrew Crowe’s ‘A Mini Guide to the Identification of New Zealand Native Trees’ (Penguin, 2007)]
They are often many-trunked, with rough, fissured bark. Red flowers in large spiky balls in early summer. The leaves are opposite (they grow in pairs), 5-10 cm long, with a dense covering of white hairs below.
And now, the larch.
I mean, the rātā. The rātā...
|Rata, Kapiti Island|
Okay, sounds good. But what about when you can’t reach the leaves? I had this problem the other day when I walked into the bush on Tinakori Hill during my lunch hour. The path was steep, never came close to the trunks of the red flowering trees and in my work trousers I didn’t fancy getting too wild. I looked on the ground beneath a high red inflorescence but all the leaves were dead and brown.
On Kapiti Island, however, I saw a fine specimen of Northern Rātā dominating a gully and could truly appreciate the difference in its skeleton to a pōhutukawa. Then, a little further on, I found fallen flowers. Unlike pōhutukawa, which tends to shed the red needles separately, the many rātā flowers fell with stem and even a few leaves attached.
Timing, in nature as in comedy, is everything.
|A karo (right) and a pōhutukawa (left) with a few blooms left if you squint, Houghton Bay Road, Wellington|
For more on pōhutukawa and rātā, check out Project Crimson.