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New Zealand Flax

Phormium tenax

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asphodelaceae (Asphodel)
Evergreen shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
4 metres tall
Seaside, swamps.

Red, 6 petals
Tubular, brownish-red flower spikes. The spikes are very long. Flowers are each about 2 inches (5cm) long and emerge on each sides of the stalk in an alternating fashion.
Dark brownish-green seed pods, blackening in the sun. 3-angled.
A clump-forming evergreen perennial shrub with tough, bronzed sword-shaped, pointed leaves (all basal). The leaves reach a maximum of 3 metres (10 foot) in length. Stemless. Naturalised on the Isles of Scilly but only planted elsewhere in the British Isles. Could possibly be confused with the garden plant Yucca.
Other Names:
Coastal Flax, Common Flax Lily, Flax Bush, Harakeke, New Zealand Hemp.
Frequency (UK):
Extinct in Britain and Ireland  

Similar Species

Other Information


Phormium tenax, also known as New Zealand flax or harakeke, is a species of perennial herb that is native to New Zealand. The plant is known for its tall, striking, sword-like leaves that can reach up to 10 feet in length and are typically a bright green color.

Phormium tenax is a very adaptable plant that can grow in a wide range of conditions, including coastal areas, wetlands, and even upland pastures. It prefers well-drained soils and can tolerate both drought and wet conditions. It is also tolerant of salt-spray and can grow in coastal areas. The plant produces a tall spike of large tubular flowers in the summer, typically in shades of red or yellow, which are attractive to native birds and insects.

Phormium tenax is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant, grown for its attractive foliage, which can be used to make baskets, mats, and other traditional Maori crafts. The leaves can also be used to make a strong, durable fiber, which is traditionally used for making fishing lines, bags, and clothing. The leaves are also used for medicinal purposes, traditionally for the treatment of wounds, burns, and skin problems.

The plant is easy to propagate and maintain, it can be propagated by seed, or by dividing the rhizomes. It can also be grown from stem cuttings. It is generally hardy, drought-tolerant, and tolerant of salt-spray, it is hardy to USDA zones 9-11 and can also be grown in a container.


New Zealand flax, scientifically known as Phormium tenax, is a plant native to New Zealand that has gained popularity as an ornamental plant in gardens all over the world. It is a versatile and hardy plant that can add an exotic touch to any landscape.


New Zealand flax is a large perennial plant with long, sword-like leaves that can grow up to three meters in length. The leaves are typically green, but can also be variegated with red, bronze, or yellow stripes. The plant also produces tall flower spikes, which can reach up to four meters in height and are adorned with clusters of small, tubular flowers.


New Zealand flax is a hardy plant that is easy to grow in most soil types, as long as they are well-drained. The plant prefers full sun to partial shade and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. It is drought-tolerant and can also survive mild frosts.


New Zealand flax can be propagated from seed or by dividing the plant. The best time to divide the plant is in early spring or autumn. The plant is also easy to grow from seed, which can be sown in spring or summer.


New Zealand flax is a versatile plant that has many uses. In New Zealand, it has been traditionally used by the Maori people to make baskets, mats, and clothing. The leaves were also used for thatching and roofing. Today, it is used for decorative purposes in gardens and landscapes, as well as for erosion control and restoration of natural areas. It is also used in the production of ropes and twine.


New Zealand flax requires little care once it is established. It is a low-maintenance plant that only requires occasional watering and fertilization. The plant should be pruned in late winter or early spring to remove any dead or damaged leaves. It is also important to remove any flower spikes after they have finished blooming to promote new growth.

In conclusion, New Zealand flax is a versatile and hardy plant that can add an exotic touch to any garden or landscape. It is easy to grow and requires little maintenance once established. Whether you are looking to add a touch of New Zealand to your garden or looking for a low-maintenance plant for erosion control, New Zealand flax is an excellent choice.

More Information about New Zealand Flax

New Zealand flax has been cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens all over the world. Its unique form and foliage add texture and interest to a garden. Its leaves can be used to create a bold and striking focal point in a garden or to create contrast against softer plants.

One of the interesting things about New Zealand flax is that its color and size can vary depending on its growing conditions. In cooler temperatures, the leaves can turn reddish, while in warmer temperatures they can be more green. It is also known to grow larger in more humid environments.

New Zealand flax is also an important plant for the ecological restoration of disturbed areas. Its strong roots help to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion, and its leaves provide cover for small animals and insects.

In addition to its ornamental and ecological uses, New Zealand flax is also used for medicinal purposes. Its leaves contain a compound that has been traditionally used to treat a range of ailments, including wounds, burns, and rheumatism.

New Zealand flax has a fascinating history and cultural significance. The Maori people of New Zealand have used the plant for a range of practical and cultural purposes for centuries. They have traditionally used the leaves to weave baskets, mats, clothing, and ropes, as well as for medicinal purposes.

In addition to its practical uses, New Zealand flax has cultural significance for the Maori people. It is a symbol of strength, endurance, and prosperity. The plant has been used in ceremonial occasions, such as the welcoming of dignitaries, to signify respect and honor.

New Zealand flax is also known for its ability to attract wildlife, particularly birds. Its flowers attract nectar-feeding birds such as tui, bellbirds, and silvereyes, while its seed heads attract seed-eating birds such as finches and sparrows.

Despite its name, New Zealand flax is not related to the true flax plant, which is used for linen production. The name "flax" was given to the plant by European settlers because of its resemblance to the true flax plant.

New Zealand flax can also be grown as an indoor plant, as long as it is given adequate light and space. The plant can grow up to four meters in height, so it is important to choose a large enough container to accommodate its growth. The plant prefers bright, indirect light and should be watered when the top inch of soil becomes dry. It is also important to mist the leaves occasionally to increase humidity around the plant.

One of the interesting things about New Zealand flax is that it has been hybridized to produce a range of new cultivars with different colors and forms. These hybrids can produce leaves with red, bronze, yellow, or pink stripes, as well as flowers in shades of red, orange, or yellow.

New Zealand flax is also used in modern landscape design as an architectural element. Its long, straight leaves can be used to create a bold, linear effect in a garden, or to define a space. Its upright form also makes it an excellent choice for screening or as a backdrop for other plants.

Finally, it is worth noting that New Zealand flax is not without its drawbacks. Its leaves can be sharp and can cause injury if not handled carefully. The plant can also be invasive in some areas, particularly in wetlands and other sensitive ecosystems. Therefore, it is important to research the plant's invasive potential before planting it in a new area.

In conclusion, New Zealand flax is a versatile and fascinating plant with a range of ornamental, ecological, and cultural uses. Whether you are interested in its history and symbolism, its ornamental potential, or its ecological benefits, New Zealand flax is a plant that is sure to capture your interest and admiration. With its unique form and striking appearance, it is a plant that can add a touch of exotic beauty to any landscape or indoor space.


New Zealand Flax filmed at Formby, Lancashire on the 4th June 2023:


Music credits
Comfortable Mystery 4 - Film Noire by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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