Phormium tenax, the New Zealand flax, is now a globally well-known plant and is much used - where space allows - for its dramatically explosive foliage and bold architectural presence. It enjoys full sun and a moist soil mimicing its natural habitat along riverbanks and creeks, with its head in the light and its roots tapping into a ready supply of water. It prefers good drainage but it is not uncommon in its natural habitat to find it in swampy areas.
It is a much-loved plant in New Zealand where it has become woven into the cultural identity of the nation. One of my earliest memories of growing up there was hiding behind the enormous clump of flax that grew in a corner of my grandmother's house. Traditionally, the Maori people used New Zealand flax as a raw material to make a vast range of everyday items and for utilitarian functions including clothing, food gathering, fishing, hunting, domestic items, craftware, decorative furnishings and medicine. Maori communities cultivated flax plantations, or pa harakeke, of the forms that had the best leaf and fibre qualities for these various needs. Scraped of its outer skin, the leaves reveal tough sinewy fibres, which were used to make rope and cord, snares, fishing lines and fishing nets. When repeatedly washed and pounded, these fibres called muka, became soft and were used to weave the base cloth to make the highly-prized feather cloaks worn by rangatira and other important persons. Raincloaks, sandals and the traditional piupiu were all made from flax and strips of flax were woven to make baskets, floormats and canoe sails. They also formed the basis for the woven tukutuku panels of the wharenui or meeting house.
In recent years there has been a resurgence in the use of flax and flax fibre by New Zealand artists and craftspeople.
The phylogenetic studies by The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group has reclassified Phormium and under APG III it is now placed in the subfamily Hemerocallidoideae.
|Geographical Origin||New Zealand|
|Cultivation||Full sun. Moist, rich, well-drained soil.|
|Eventual Height||2 m|
|Eventual Spread||2 m-3 m. Leave plenty of room as it grows much bigger than you think it will|
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