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Tree Botanics

Northern Rata Previous


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Other Names: (Metrosideros robusta) = iron wood/heart of iron + robust/hardy

This tall, sturdy giant is a member of the Myrtaceae family (Myrtle) and is very similar to its cousin the Pohutukawa in both physical & botanical aspect.  The tree can attain heights of up to 30m overall with diameter at trunk capacity of up to 2m.  The Rata usually begins its life cycle as an epiphyte as a seedling high up in the branches of contemporary forest trees; from where roots descend down the host to reach the ground.  This evolving root system simultaneously sends out horizontal systems which eventually encompass the host trunk, absorbing the timbers within the live developing tissues.  The entire fibrous structures then join together and fuse to form an irregular trunk which often outlives the supporting tree. Distribution is within lowland and hilly forest areas throughout the North Island and in Nelson/Westland in the NW of the South Island regions.  It ascends from sea level to approximately 900m. Bark at the main trunk is thin and falls away in small rectangular flakes.  The thick & leathery leaves of the rata range between 2.5 - 5cm long X 1.5 -2cm wide, the upper-side of a dark green colour & far paler beneath.  When leaves are held up to the light numerous translucent oil glands become readily visible. The flowers vary from a dull to brilliant red in colour forming in terminal clusters/sprays (at the end of the limbs/regenerative network) appearing slightly more compact than the pohutukawa, forming between the months of November - January. Fruits appear as small woody capsules, 6 - 8 mm long ripening to split and release fine woody seeds.