In Europe and North America, our Christmas trees are usually conifers. However, the New Zealand Christmas tree is a member of the Myrtaceae (Myrtle and Eucalyptus family). It is an evergreen tree of coastal North Island, New Zealand where it grows on cliffs and lava fields. The bright red flowers comprise brightly coloured stamens and rather small petals borne from November to January.
The species has the botanical name Metrosideros excelsa, and it is a very popular garden plant in mild temperate areas where it is represented in gardens by many different cultivars, some with white or yellow flowers.
The species is becoming rare in the wild and there is considerable effort to conserve this species due to its traditional role in Maori culture as well as it’s beauty and visual impact in coastal woodlands.
Not everything about this species is nice though – the seeds have very irritating hairs and are used as a sort of itching powder.
In the UK this species can be grown outside in only the very mildest coastal areas, and it does particularly well in the Scilly Isles.