My grandmother had a wonderful tree in her garden – a pohutukawa.  The pohutukawa tree, native to the north of New Zealand, is the tree I would design, if I was given the job.

It grows along the edges of the sands of most beaches in its range. It branches very low (as you can see from the picture), so that it is the perfect tree for climbing. And because the branches are usually over the sand, when you fall off, you don’t hurt yourself. The beautiful dark green foliage is dense enough that it provides perfect shade to avoid burning in the hot summer sun.

And even if you aren’t a 10 year old tree climbing fanatic, the pohutukawa has a bright red flower to enhance its natural beauty – just in time for Christmas every year when the beaches are at their most enticing. 

This tree will cling to the most uncompromising positions – growing out of cliff faces, and with roots covered by high tide in some places. And just the sight of it, particularly with the sand in the background, will bring back the long, lazy summer beach holidays of my childhood as nothing else can.

Sadly I don’t have any digital photos of my grandmother’s magnificent tree. I don’t know how old it was (definitely older than my grandmother, would be my guess, given that they grow slowly). It blew over in a storm three years ago, just after my grandmother’s 90th birthday. She had been terrified that was going to happen forever – if it had fallen the wrong way, it would have obliterated her house. Luckily, there was only peripheral damage, and, after the storm was finished, it was taken away for firewood. My grandmother was relieved that the sword of Damocles had finally fallen, and she had survived. Her grandchildren, who had spent many long hours daring each other to climb higher and higher up the tree, mourned as another part of their childhood receded into the distance.

  5 comments for “Pohutukawa

  1. January 26, 2007 at 12:07 am

    I love this Ode to a Tree. It certainly looks beautiful and good for climbing. I love how this kind of tree will always be associated with your grandmother for you. When I think of mine, I think of a magnolia tree, not native to South Africa, but beautiful and hardy nevertheless.

  2. January 26, 2007 at 7:06 am

    Beautiful. (The post and the tree.)

  3. January 28, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    What a beautiful species! I really want to go to New Zealand. 🙂

  4. February 2, 2007 at 3:43 am

    Looks like a wonderful species. I can definitely empathize with the loss of a beloved climbing tree – that happened to me, too. And fortunately that tree, too (a butternut) didn’t hit the house.

  5. February 3, 2007 at 2:19 am

    Beautiful tree especially when in flower!

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