Pohutukawa Trees & Rules Around Pruning Them

ARTICLE Erin Reilly

The pōhutukawa is one of New Zealand’s most immediately-recognised native trees, their iconic red blooms heralding the imminent arrival of Christmas and conjuring up fond memories of warm Kiwi summers at the beach. And that’s where you’ll probably find them. Especially in the upper North Island pōhutukawa tend to grow close to the coast, so in summer beaches look like they’ve been sprinkled with crimson dust.

Pōhutukawa trees belong to the myrtle (Myrtaceae) family, which also includes the eucalyptus, feijoa, guava, bottlebrush and its close cousin the rātā. Rātā looks very similar to the pōhutukawa but are more likely to grow in the South Island where it’s colder, while pōhutukawa like the warm, moist climate of the north. (If you’re not sure which is which, pohutukawa leaves are furry underneath while rātā leaves are not.) Both trees are characterised by very hardwood that’s cloaked with rough bark and could grow up to 25 metres tall.

Pōhutukawa are revered in Maori mythology too. Legends tell of how a young Maori warrior named Tawhaki tried to find help from heaven to avenge his father’s death. He wasn’t successful, instead falling from the heavens, and the pōhutukawa’s crimson flowers are said to represent his blood.

While their large limbs and merry foliage make for gorgeous photos and endless seaside summer fun, when pōhutukawa appear further inland – particularly in the middle of someone’s garden – they can become disruptive. In fact, the pōhutukawa has been termed the ‘pollute-akawa’ due to the impact its large roots can have on foundations, its leaves and flowers on gardens and gutters, and its height and foliage cover on sunlight and views.

Unfortunately for homeowners, getting rid of a pōhutukawa from their property isn’t as easy as pulling out the chainsaw. Pōhutukawa are native to New Zealand and in many parts of the country, they may be protected and therefore require special permission to remove – even to simply prune. What is classified as a protected tree varies between councils and parts of the country and may take into consideration factors like height, how much native vegetation is growing around it and if there is ‘blanket’ protection of all trees in the area. Trees may also be protected because they’re listed as ‘significant’ to that area, they’re covered by a heritage order under the Resource Management Act or they’ve been voluntarily filed for protection under Heritage Covenant provisions of the Historic Places Act.

As a result, figuring out if a particular tree can be pruned or removed altogether – whether it’s a pōhutukawa or not – can be tricky. The best advice any New Zealand council can provide is simply to ‘check before you chop’. If you want to prune or completely remove a pohutukawa that’s on your property, ask your local Zones Landscaping about the specific rulings in your neighbourhood. Doing the wrong thing could result in a hefty fine it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Keep in mind where a pōhutukawa that’s impacting your property was originally planted too. If the tree is on your neighbour’s side of the boundary, it’s their tree not yours – even if its branches or roots impact your side of the fence. Legally you can cut overhanging branches and roots of trees on your neighbour’s property back to the boundary (this is called ‘abatement’), however, the same rules from above apply if those trees are native.

When dealing with troublesome trees on your property, always ask for professional advice. For more information about pruning or cutting down a pohutukawa tree in your neck of the woods, contact Zones Landscaping or your local council.

You might be interested in reading this: All you need to know about landscaping

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*All information is believed to be true at the time of publishing and is subject to change.

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