Nelson Nature Fortnightly Nature Fix #6
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Nelson Nature fortnightly nature fix.

Welcome to the Nelson Nature fortnightly nature fix - a regular snippet about Nelson's natural environment, and what we can do to look after it.  If you know anyone who you think might enjoy getting a regular nature fix, please pass this on and encourage them to sign up.

New Zealand Christmas Trees - the Rata and the Pohutakawa.

Pohutukawa flowers - Tahu Taylor-Koolen (DOC)
Over the Christmas and New Year season, the flowering of these two majestic trees are a sight we associate with sunshine, holidays, and coastal highways, or misty rain-soaked coastal forests. The two species are very closely related, and hard to tell apart, but belong in different habitats and locations across our country.
Both rata and pohutukawa are varieties of Metrosideros, the same plant family as feijoa, eucalyptus, manuka, kanuka and swamp maire. Pohutukawa and rata varieties found in the Pacific region originated in New Zealand around 10 million years ago and were  widely dispersed by seed throughout the region.

The pohutukawa grows naturally in the North Island, north of New Plymouth and Gisborne, with the oldest known tree (around 600 years old) – Te Waha o Rerekohu – at Te Araroa . These trees can live to approximately 1000 years old.
Rata are the naturally occurring species in the South Island, specifically the Southern rata Metrosideros umbellata, as well as three types of climbing rata – Metrosideros diffusa, Metrosideros fulgens and Metrosideros perforata. Southern rata grow from seed to 15 metres high with a one metre diameter trunk and are found from sea level to tree line. The North Island rata usually begins life as an epiphyte on a host tree. Its roots will grow to the ground, and finally suppress the host tree to reach a height of up to 25 metres and a trunk of 2.5 metres diameter.
Telling the difference between a rata and a pohutukawa is not always easy as both species flower between November and February, have dense, dark red wood with gnarled and twisted trunks, and produce dry woody capsules full of seed. However, rata leaves are glossy and dark green on both sides, whereas pohutukawa leaves are leathery and olive green and furry underneath. 

 What can you do to encourage more Southern Rata?

Southern Rata- Jo Hiscock (DOC) 
If you want to plant your own New Zealand Christmas tree in the Nelson region, choose a rata over a pohutakawa, and make sure it is protected from pests such as possums.

The rata has been part of our local ecosystem for thousands of years, and is welcomed as a food source by our native birds. You may also consider adopting a piece of your local stream, where rata can be incorporated into planting, for example rata would once have been abundant along the Maitai River and can still be seen in its upper forest reaches.

To find out more about work underway to protect Nelson's biodiversity, visit the Nelson Nature website
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