Sunday, December 24, 2006

New Zealand’s Christmas

I took this photo Friday morning in Birkenhead in North Shore City, which is across the harbour from Auckland City. The photo on the left side is of the Auckland Harbour Bridge at Northcote Point, also taken Friday morning.

One of the main features of New Zealand around Christmastime—apart from the fact it’s summer—is the Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), often called the New Zealand Christmas Tree because its red bottle brush-like blooms appear around Christmas (give or take a few weeks).

Apparently, early English settlers cut the branches to place in their homes for holiday displays, only to discover that they instantly dropped the red bristle-like fibres from the blooms. Perhaps the story is a myth, because you’d think they’d have noticed the red carpet on the ground under Pohutukawa trees this time of year.

Pohutukawas are primarily a coastal tree in the North Island, though they can grow inland, too. A member of the myrtle family, they’re related to the eucalypts which are the favourite food of Australian possums. Therein lies a major problem.

Australian possums were imported into New Zealand in the 19th century in the hope a fur trade could be established. The effort failed and the possums, with no natural enemies, reached plague levels. They munch their way through native forests with reckless abandon, destroying trees and with them the habitat and food for native birds.

Possums are now trapped and used in many ways. Their fur is used in a variety of products, such as being mixed with merino wool for woven clothes that are lightweight, warm and extremely soft. The skins are used to make things like golf gloves that are supposedly the best in the world. Ironically, these terrible pests that we can’t get rid of are endangered in some parts of Australia.

Not so very long ago, Pohutukawa were threatened. An effort called Project Crimson was created to encourage planting of Pohutukawa and the related Rata. The effort was extremely successful, aided in part by official protection given to Pohutukawa trees over a certain size, along with stepped-up possum eradication efforts.

The trees are truly magnificent, often forming a massive trunk, maybe two metres in diameter, and reaching heights of about 20 metres. When there are huge old Pohutukawas along a sea shore, the site is nothing sort of awe inspiring.

Pohutukawas are one of the main benefits of having Christmas in New Zealand’s summer. So I decided to post these photos on this Christmas Eve, to send a little New Zealand warmth to my friends and family in the Northern Hemisphere.

Merry Christmas.

This close-up photo of a Pohutukawa bloom was taken at Mt Eden, Auckland by Kahuroa. It can be seen on Wikipedia, which also has a good article on the trees.


Kalv1n said...

That is really fascinating! The thing about the possum makes me think of the simpson's episode where they take the frog to australia, and then the koala bear comes back to america. Hopefully you're enjoying the warm weather. I'm cursing the snow.

Arthur Schenck said...

Kalvin, this is so weird--I was just reading your comment over at This Boy Elroy when you were leaving this one...

I know the Simpsons episode you mean, and it's been one of my favourites--especially the part where they have the toilet flush "the American way".

I've certainly cursed the snow in my day, so I'm enjoying the chance to have warm weather Christmases. You guys should visit for a Christmas without snow.

All the best for the holidays!