NZs Iconic Flax

New Zealand flax is everywhere in NZ. If you visit here hoping to see flax you won’t be disappointed – it’s along roadsides, by the beach, along driveways, on mountain sides, perched on cliffs, on the edges of swamps, in public parks and in home gardens. Driving in rural areas you’ll likely see green flax and occasionally purple and variegated types, growing by fencelines as farm shelter. They grow quickly and most aren’t tended in any way so they become big, dense and impenetrable.

Photos I took with my cellphone during a local walk, 03 April 2020


Flax and the Blue Mountains, Tapanui, West Otago

Click on ANY photo to enlarge – all are 1200px-wide.

Green and purple flaxes together on the roadside verge, by a farm paddock.

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Old flower stalks are tall, stiff and very lightweight, like balsa wood.

tapanui_flax_blue_mountains_02_1200w

When the seedpods are mature the stalks tend to bend closer to the ground.

tapanui_flax_blue_mountains_03_1200w

tapanui_flax_blue_mountains_04_1200w

If you’ve only seen flax in formal gardens overseas you might be surprised to see them wild like this. It’s how we usually see them in NZ, even in gardens it’s normal that they get little maintenance.

Note: Phormium tenax or harakeke is the principal NZ plant for Maori weaving. Plants for weaving would be maintained to ensure leaves are fit for purpose – more info below.


Further Reading

General information and flax varieties

Landcare Research have interesting information on their website about different varieties of flax including a specific collection of fifty “selected long ago from natural stands and cultivated by Māori weavers for their special leaf and fibre properties”. National New Zealand Flax Collection

— I picked a flax cultivar at random and it is beautiful and useful. Looks nice in the photos. Here’s part of the description…

Recognised for its beautiful glossy fibre. Heaphy (Flax Commissioners Report 1870) says that “some of this flax was manufactured in France into fabrics, that resembled fine jean and silk in delicacy of gloss. The Oue is frequently planted by the natives in borders to divide small cultivations near a village, and where it is convenient for occasional use in mat-making. In this case it constitutes quite a property. It may be seen in the cultivations at Coromandel harbour, Kawhia, and the Waikato.

Full description and photos at:  Tāpoto


Cultivating flax for weaving

There’s a page at the Landcare Research website with information about establishing a garden of flax varieties for the purpose of weaving:  Establishing a Pā Harakeke


Text and photos by Liz; Exploring Colour (2020)

10 thoughts on “NZs Iconic Flax

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  1. Hi Liz, hope you’re both well. I love flax because the birds, especially tui and bellbirds love the flowers. Weta snuggle in the bases and the dry flower stalks make excellent kindling. Not to mention the fun you have with the leaves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. New Zealand Flax is very different from the flax that we have in the USA and Canada, actually mayhaps it is entirely different. You have provided a wealth of interesting information about the New Zealand flax and now I must do some research regarding ours. Little Ms. Liz, your shadow in the last two photos show how far you had to stretch to capture them! Thank-you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting to see what plants are like in their native habitats – they can look so different to how they do in formal gardens. I remember seeing succulents growing in the wild in Spain, near where my parents lived. (They had retired there.) The plants looked extraordinary in the dry landscape – a bit like giant houseplants!

    Liked by 1 person

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