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Rata Tree Guide: Metrosideros umbellata, robusta, & more!

The Plant Company grows and sells thousands of Rata trees and plants throughout NZ. We pride ourselves on producing high quality plants and seeing the joy from our customers when they receive them. Explore our range and the expert advice articles which have been produced by experienced gardeners and nurseryman. These articles cover key questions about growing successfully.

Garden Style


Flower Colour

Flowering Season


Fragrant Flowers

NZ Native

Coastal Conditions


An Insight Into Rata: Understanding Northern And Southern Rata Trees

Southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata) grows from a seed that has fallen to the ground and eventually grows into a tree about 15 metres high with a trunk 1 metre wide. It is the most widespread of the rata and is found from sea level to about 750 m. It is naturally found through Northland down to the West Coast of the South Island, usually in higher rainfall areas. Trees up to 500 years old can be found in native forests.

Northern rata (Metrosideros robusta) is a flowering tree commonly found in the North Island. It grows in the hollows of other trees as an epiphyte and sends roots to the ground. Eventually it will kill the host tree. It can grow to between 25 and 40 m tall with a 2.5 m diameter trunk that is often hollow. 1000-year-old trees have been found in native forests. The flowers are orange-pink coloured and have a bottle-brush style.

What Is The Difference Between Rata And Pohutukawa?

Rata and Pohutukawa are common names that refer to species of Metrosideros, and are often used for the same plant, somewhat erroneously. This can create confusion and interesting debates!

New Zealand has three tree species, one shrub species, and six climbing species that all belong to the genus, Metrosideros. Northern Rata (Metrosideros robusta) and Southern Rata (Metrosideros umbellata) are generally the most well-known of these and their difference are explained in, What Is The Difference Between Southern Rata And Northern Rata? Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) has smaller and more rounded leaves with a velvet-like texture on the underside of the leaves. Flowering is similar, though clusters are typically larger with Pohutukawa.

Unless otherwise stated in these series of articles, The Plant Company will refer to Rata and Pohutukawa as Pohutukawa as this is the more widely accepted common name for Metrosideros.

What Is The Difference Between Southern Rata And Pōhutukawa?

Distinguishing between Southern Rata and Pohutukawa can be tricky, but there are several key differences to look for:

Growth habit:

Size and lifespan:



Leaves with a whitish underside are almost certainly a pōhutukawa, as well as those growing near the coast. While southern rātā flowers are darker and less dense, hybridization can occur, making identification a bit blurry in some cases. However, focusing on these key differences will help you confidently distinguish between these stunning New Zealand trees.

What Is The Difference Between Southern Rata And Northern Rata?

There are three fundamental differences between Northern Rata (Metrosideros robusta) and Southern Rata (Metrosideros umbellata). Those are the way it establishes itself, the size at maturity, and the flower colour.

Northern Rata normally grows in the hollows of other trees (an epiphyte) and sends roots to the ground. Eventually it will kill the host tree. Southern Rata does not grow as an epiphyte, but rather establishes from seeds dropped to the ground.

Northern Rata can grow to between 25 and 40 m tall with a 2.5 m diameter trunk, whereas Southern Rata typically grows to 15 m tall and have a 1 m wide trunk.

Southern rata has flowers that are dark red, whereas Northern Rata tend to be orange-pink coloured flowers.

How Fast Do Rātā Trees Grow?

The growth rate of Rata trees varies depending on several factors:

Overall, rātā trees are considered to be slow-growing trees. They can live for hundreds of years, and some specimens can reach up to 20 metres in height and have a trunk diameter of up to 2 metres.

Planting And Growing Rata Trees, Shrubs, and Groundcovers

Planting a Rata and getting it to grow well is generally easy when you get a few of the basics right. This involves planting them in the right soil type, choosing the most ideal planting position, selecting the best variety, and ensuring the plants have the essentials to thrive. The Plant Company has the right advice to ensure success, no matter what type of Rata you are growing.

How To Plant Rata

Choose a full sun or partial shade position with good drainage for your Rata. The hole should be dug to at least 50-75% deeper and wider than the container the plant is currently growing in. A planting spade makes the hole digging a lot easier. The Plant Company recommends incorporating compost or sheep pellets into the soil to provide additional organic material, but this is not essential. Do not put fertiliser in the bottom of the hole, rather spread that on the soil surface after planting, and preferably do this when the plant is actively growing in spring.

Remove the plant from the container it is growing in by either pulling it free or by cutting the bag. We recommend cutting the bag or container, especially for larger grade plants, to minimise any chance of damaging the roots. If the roots have been growing in a circle or are all bound up you can tease them apart if you want but this is not essential. Similarly, you don’t need to remove any of the growing media. The Plant Company does not recommend cutting the roots, even if the plant is root-bound as this offers no benefit. This is explained in our article, Managing Rootbound Plants.

Now place the plant in the hole and make sure it is level with the soil surface before filling in around it. If it is above the soil surface, dig more out. If it is below, put in more soil and retest the level. Once the plant is set level with the soil surface, add more soil gradually and firm it around the plant using gentle pressure as you go. Scatter Native Plant Fertiliser across the soil surface after planting and the give the plant a good watering.

How To Propagate Rata

Rata are generally propagated by stem cuttings between autumn and mid-spring. A stem about 10 cm long is trimmed into a cutting using secateurs with a couple of leaves left at the top. The leaves are cut in half to reduce transpiration losses and prevent the cutting drying out. The base is cut just below a node, then dipped in rooting hormone. The cutting is then inserted into propagation growing media, and the tray of cuttings is placed under mist. Bottom heat is applied for the first four weeks while the cuttings root. A fungicide is generally applied every week with the cuttings usually ready for potting at week 10.

Can Rata Be Propagated In Water?

Rata do not root well in just water and are more likely to rot. There might be the odd success, but The Plant Company says, “don’t waste your time!”

Where To Buy Quality Rata Trees In NZ

The Plant Company has great stock of high quality Rata plants. We appreciate that buying online is somewhat of a leap of faith, given you are putting your trust in us. Please rest assured that we only ship plants that we would happily buy and plant ourselves. Trust in The Plant Company to supply your Rata needs and allow us to impress you both with our quality and service. Our impressive Google Rating shows we are good at what we do!

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Whether you need assistance finding the plant you’re looking for or you simply want to know more about who we are and what we do, we invite you to get in touch with us today. A member of The Plant Company team will get back in touch as soon as possible.

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