Phormium tenax is a classic New Zealand native plant – large common flax. Forms clumps of upright grey / green leaves. Flowers are bright orange-red, arranged in groups along a tall erect stem and fruits and seeds January – March. Good in mixed shelter. Very hardy. Good for bank stabilisation and necessary for riparian planting. Great bird attractor and good for bees and indigenous insects.
Phormium tenax is a tall, perennial plant spreading by stout horizontal stems (rhizomes). Leaves are crowded in two opposite fan-like rows and are stiff and erect at the base and flexuous or pendulous in upper portions. Leaves have a strong midvein and numerous smaller minor veins strengthened by tough fibre bundles. This tough fibreous quality led Māori and Europeans alike to use the plant for ropes and weaving. An endemic plant favouring wetlands but also tolerating dry lowland and coastal sites.
There are two species of Phormium in New Zealand and both are endemic: Phormium tenax (harakeke or New Zealand flax) P. cookianum (wharariki or mountain flax). Both are used by the Māori, however, harakeke is more widespread and has superior qualities for fibre.
Plant communities that include Apodasmia similis, Carex maorica, Carex secta, Carex virgata, and Eleocharis acuta often contain Phormium tenax.
For more information on plant communities, we recommend DOC’s publication Native Plant Communities of the Canterbury Plains