The country of New Zealand has a rich and varied culture. New Zealanders (known informally as Kiwis) represent a true cultural melting pot. With a large majority hailing from European decent, their population also includes the indigenous people, the Maori whose origin has been traced back to the islands of Eastern Polynesia. Their varied backgrounds create unique and interesting floral traditions for everything from weddings to Christmas.
The Pohutukawa Tree, also known as the Kiwi Christmas Tree, is easily recognized by its crimson flower and colorful foliage. First noted in 1867 by a visiting geologist as being referred to as a Christmas tree in the region. The Pohutukawa Tree is a mainstay for New Zealand Christmas cards, portraits, poems, and songs.
Aside from the European population, it holds deep roots in Maori traditions. The legend goes that a young Maori warrior named Tawhaki, attempted to find heaven, in hopes of finding help to avenge his dead father. The crimson flowers are said to represent his blood when he failed and fell back to earth.
The specific tree he’s said to fallen of, is known to the Maori as “the place of leaping”. They believe that the specific tree on the Northern tip of the island is where spirits begin their journey back to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki. The spirits leap off of the tree and climb down the roots into the sacred ground surrendering it.
While the Pohutukawa Tree is invaluable in the Kiwi tradition the most significant plant within in the New Zealand tradtion is without a doubt it’s peoples name sake. The Kiwifruit, also known as the Chinese Gooseberry.
Native to North Central and Eastern China, it was first commerciallycultivated in New Zealand in the early 20th Century. While production grew steadily it was now until the mid 1970’s that exports exceeded the amount of domestically consumed Kiwi which created the term “Kiwi Heads” for New Zealand around the world.