Here';s the full "flax"! Quintessentially Kiwi, the New Zealand Phormiums or Flaxes are an invaluable piece of our horticultural history. Highly valued by Maori for medicinal purposes and of course used by them for weaving many useful items, the most famous of which is the kete or basket.
Actually the word Phormium comes from the Greek "phormos" which relates to baskets. Flax was also one of New Zealand';s first exports. The fibre was used for making twine and rope and was highly valued by the British Navy. There are two species of New Zealand Flax - Phormium tenax or Harakeke which is the larger of the two and Phormium cookianum or Wharaiki.
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Flax plants are actually a large perennial herb though we tend to use them in landscaping as we would a shrub. They are incredibly hardy and adaptable and very easy to grow. The long leathery sword like foliage has an attractive arching habit and comes in a myriad of colour choices. The colour of the red varieties is more intense if the foliage is protected from afternoon sun.
The rigid flower stalks stand proudly above the foliage in summer and once mature (when they turn bronzy red) are a magnet for birds. The native Tui';s beak fits perfectly into the shape of the Phormium flower. It is great fun to watch them as they apear to gorge themselves into an almost drunken state on the nectar; definitely one of my favourite times in the gardening year. Phormiums also grow well in a container and there are some neat dwarf varieties which are well suited to this purpose. They must be well watered if container grown as Phormiums do not like to dry out completely. The only maintenance they need is the occasional tidy up of old foliage and flower heads.
If you have a tough, hard-to-develop site or a bank that needs retaining, then consider a mass planting of Phormium. They will do the job for you very well and in an undemanding fashion. Fabulous along stream banks or around ponds, perfect used amongst large rocks or simply use as a foliage feature in your border or shrubbery. Their form, texture, colour and graceful habit are guaranteed to please.
Native Flax. Vigorous grower with gracefully drooping foliage heavily variegated yellow with increasing green zone as the leaves mature. Will grow in any reasonable soil. Looks its best in semi-shade. Excellent for accenting in the landscape. H1-2m
Colour: Assorted Habit: Clump forming Est. Hgt/Wdth in 7/10 yrs: cm x cm