Everyone loves the pohutukawa with its crimson canopy of flowers. But fewer people know its cousins, the rata trees and vines.
Several vine species grow in the forest at Aongatete and it is a white rata that is flowering at present. Each flower, like that of the pohutukawa, is a tiny cup filled with nectar and fringed with stamens. Tui and honey bees love the nectar.
Amongst our climbing rata species there are several with white flowers, one with spectacular pinkish-red flowers – the carmine rata – and a larger-leaved vine with red flowers. They are all attractive and suitable garden plants and the carmine rata, which is very rare in the wild, can be purchased from garden centres.
You may be lucky enough to already have a rata seedling grow out of a fence of pungas. If you look after your uninvited guest it will slowly clothe the dead punga trunks, vastly improving both the look and the longevity of the fence.
The forest is also home to the Northern rata, a tall and magnificent tree. Sadly possums have killed most of them in the Kaimai forests. At Aongatete a few spindly specimens survive and pest control should give them a new lease of life so that, in the years ahead, their crowns of crimson flowers will again rise above the forest canopy.