It is the classic Kiwi Christmas image, beach, barbecue and the bright red blooms of the pōhutukawa.
However, yellow or “golden” pōhutukawa are popping up across Northland in a bright show that has captured the attention of eagle-eyed locals.
Around this time every year, the yellow variety of the endemic tree blooms. They are ones we get to enjoy either by the hands that planted them or an occasional “sport” nature chooses to play, the Department of Conservation (DoC) said.
Onerahi, Maunu, Te Kamō, Tikipunga, One Tree Point and Paihia are some of the spots they have been spotted delivering their Christmas cheer.
But where do they come from?
According to Forest and Bird Northland conservation advocate Dean Baigent-Mercer, yellow-flowered pōhutukawa have been planted in Northland and originate from trees naturally growing on Mōtītī Island, just off Tauranga Harbour.
“You’ll see natural variation in colour of pōhutukawa in the wild from a pinkish-red all the way through to blood red,” Baigent-Mercer said.
“Pōhutukawa are in the meterosideros family which include the many tree and climbing rātā species across the country. Autumn flowering rātā vine (Metrosideros fulgens) usually have red flowers too but can also have yellow, orange and even bronze-brown flowers.”
Baigent-Mercer described this summer as the best flowering year “in ages.”
“In Northland we are having a multi-mast with pōhutukawa, northern rātā, porokaiwhiri, taraire, tawa, kānuka and karaka.”
They typically bloom between November and February depending on location and weather patterns.
DoC technical adviser in ecology, Andrew Townsend, said many of the yellow pōhutukawa you see around the place, such as near the Onerahi end of Whangārei Heads Rd, are actually Kermadec pōhutukawa.
“The flowers and leaves are slightly smaller and often a bit more of a washed out colour - including the pale yellow that you see in gardens.”
“They’re a sport that occasionally occurs in nature. Pōhutukawa (and rātā) flowers vary in colour from deep red to orange to occasional yellow,” he said.
“People have selected for the more unusual colours (including yellow), so they are probably more common in gardens than in the wild, but do still occasionally occur.”
Threats to pōhutukawa - no matter what colour, include possums, fungal diseases, myrtle rust, weeds, grasses and humans.
According to the Department of Conservation, people can damage pōhutukawa trees by parking their cars on their roots.
So while they may look like the ideal shaded parking spot for a summer picnic, these iconic trees need space to grow and thrive.
Forest and Bird is encouraging people to collect seeds from the original ancient trees in their local areas in late summer and autumn and plant nearby.
The seeds are “dust-like” and only need to be sprinkled over potting mix and kept moist and in the sun for a few months before seedlings appear.
Brodie Stone is the education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie has spent most of her life in Whangārei and is passionate about delving into issues that matter to Northlanders and beyond.