Pasadena Beautiful’s Tree of the Month for December: The Metrosideros Excelsa, Known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree

Article and photos by Emina Darakjy
Published on Dec 17, 2021

Each month, Pasadena Beautiful Tree Program Chair Emina Darakjy presents a ‘tree of the month’ in order to educate Pasadenans about the trees around them. Many people drive by trees they admire but have no idea what they are called or what their growing habits are. Pasadena Beautiful was founded in 1960 by a group of volunteers who saw a need to beautify their city and enhance its tree canopy.


The Metrosideros excelsa is an evergreen tree with a rounded dense crown reaching a height of 35 feet with an equal spread. The tree can be grown as a multi-trunk or single trunk, does well in full sun but can tolerate light shade.

Down under in New Zealand this tree is called Pohutukawa, and blooms during their summer months which are November to January with a peak blooming cycle around Christmas time thus its common name.

The trunk starts smooth becoming rough and fissured with a grayish-brown bark.

The leaves are oval and are a beautiful glossy shade of gray/green.

The Metrosideros Excelsa, Known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree. [Photo by Emina Darakjy]

Flowers start as white buds before opening to a very showy crimson red with thin long stamens resembling the flowers of a bottlebrush tree attracting birds and bees.

This tree is smog and drought tolerant, adapts to any soil conditions, tolerates the salty coastal mist making it a good candidate for coastal plantings.

The tree is considered pest-free but can be susceptible to Phytophthora and Root Rot, its aggressive roots can cause sidewalk damage.

Another noticeable feature of this tree is its aerial roots which hang down from its branches. If left alone, they can touch the ground and take root forming extra trunks.

This is a beautiful tree especially when in bloom, makes a great accent in a garden, median or as a street tree, and is safe to plant in areas where deer are present. It is also on Southern California Edison’s list of recommended trees to plant under powerlines.

Emina Darakjy is a past president of Pasadena Beautiful and its present Tree Program Chair. Darakjy says she has always had a passion for trees and that she is also involved with several other tree organizations such as California Re-Leaf, the Arbor Day Foundation and American Forests. She is an immediate past president of Street Tree Seminar Inc. and the incoming president of the California Urban Forests Council.

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