Southern Rata

A species of Metrosideros that makes a great show of red flowers, a bit like the more famous pohutukawa, is Metrosideros umbellata but M.umbellata‘s natural home is down here in the south where it’s cool and moist (pohutukawa’s natural home is further north where it’s hotter and drier).

On my recent bottlebrush post Steve Schwartzman of Portraits of Wildflowers told me that the color of the red flowers reminded him of our rata, hence my decision to do this post.

All photos 900px-wide except where noted otherwise as one is 1400px-wide.

Click on any image to enlarge.

Metrosideros umbellata

These photos were taken by me at Dunedin Botanic Garden, Christmas Day 2019.


New growth of rata foliage is also very attractive.


All three photos were taken from this branch of blossom, conveniently hanging down from a large rata tree.


I chose a beautiful garden-variety of rata for our home garden when we lived in the Catlins. It has sharply pointed little leaves with an attractive yellow variegation. Looks pretty at any time of year due to the lovely foliage.

At the same time I purchased a beautiful compact Phormium (NZ flax) named ‘Sweet Mist’ and they made wonderful partners in the garden. The foliage of ‘Sweet Mist’ appears to be commonly described as ‘bronze’. I think of it as a soft maroon colour.

Next two photos show these two plants, from Nigel’s archive and edited by me. Look how pretty the new growth is on the rata!

Metrosideros umbellata ‘Moonlight’
Phormium ‘Sweet Mist’

The next photo is one that Nigel took mid-January 2015 at Dunedin Botanic Garden, the rata flowers glow against the blue summer sky. I only re-sized this, no other editing.

Back to the Catlins and not far from where we lived is a short bush walk to Lake Wilkie, much visited by tourists so it has a good walking track [includes a steep slope and steps though]. Here’s two photos taken by Nigel.

This is 1400px-wide, click on the photo to enlarge.

Photo taken 24 Jan, 2013. There’s a rata in the foreground with some bloom.

Also at Lake Wilkie, 02 Dec 2014. Rata canopy.

I knew that Steve Schwartzman must’ve seen and photographed rata flowers when here in New Zealand so I searched his site and he’s posted two shots from the Arthur’s Pass road, a great place to see them if you’re there in the right season. He took them Feb 16 (in 2015 I assume).

LINK:   New Zealand: Rātā flowering

Further Reading

This authoritative and extensive article (14 pages, illustrated) about Metrosideros is excellent. It even provides the background to the development of ‘Moonlight’.

LINK:   Metrosideros in cultivation: Rātā and other species (.pdf, 746KB)

in New Zealand Garden Journal, 2010, Vol. 13(2) pg. 10-23

Text by Liz, photos by Nigel and Liz; Exploring Colour (2020)

18 thoughts on “Southern Rata

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      1. PS Leya, just now found this beautiful Cattleya tenebrosa var. rubra. Do you know of it? It’s native to the southern parts of Brazil. Two photos included in this tweet from the Director of Horticulture, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. Just thought it might interest you perhaps.


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