When a plant is happy, it shows

Taking a stroll today, I couldn’t help but notice a certain plant. Being in a subtropical coastal climate, that could mean any number of plants. But today it was a plant that I’ve seen many times back home.

Tetrapanax papyrifer, the Rice Paper Plant, lends a great tropical feel wherever it calls home. The huge leaves (yay) and peculiar shape make it stand out in a sea of camelias and rhododendrons in the Pacific Northwest. In New Zealand it nearly completely blends in to most of the other plants that make up a typical garden. I have seen a few Fatsia japonica (Japanese Aralia) here and there, and while being impressively large they look just like the neighbor’s big philodendron bushes. What a horrible problem, right? T papyrifer suffers the same fate, I’m afraid. Unless…

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Unless it happens to be blooming. All I have to say is whoa. At 15 feet tall and the size of a tree, it’s no longer a Rice Paper Plant. It’s a Rice Paper Tree.

The New Zealand Christmas Tree, or Pohutukawa Tree (Metrosideros excelsa) is another tree that really looks different when it really likes where it is. It is an evergreen with thick green leaves that are covered in white hairs on the underside. New growth pushes out with a really nice lime/sea foam green.

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New growth is so bright green that it looks fake.

In summer the trees are covered in bright red bottlebrush-esque blooms. If you are really lucky, the tree will reward you with aerial roots. For a drought tolerant plant, I find that part amazing.

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These aerial roots give the tree an Irish look to them, I think. Red hair, anyone?

I’ve heard that the Pohutukawa is an extremely variable tree from seed. Each seed from a tree can yield a mature tree that is completely different than the one from a seed that grew right next to it. The variability goes for everything about the tree, apparently. The blooms can be different shades of red, yellow and white. The tree could be upright with a flat canopy, or weeping with branches that reach down and touch the ground. It’s a tough, adaptable, and good looking tree. What’s not to like about it?

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