Phormium, otherwise known as New Zealand flax is a genera of plants that originate in New Zealand. It is a perennial that develops into clumps and is a monocotyledon (plant with one seed leaf, and usually, parallel-veined narrow leaves). They are a versatile plant with a variety of end uses
The original species, from which the new coloured hybrids have arisen, can be divided into two main groups:
Phormium tenax, also known in the native Maori language as harakeke, has been traditionally used by the Maori people for making baskets, mats, clothes and other items. Seedlings of tenax can be variable fro dark brown to green and are not necessarily true to type, however through a breeding programme, a selected line is available Phormium tenax is characterised by its bold and upright appearance.
Phormium cookianum is commonly known as mountain flax and wharaiki by the Maori people. It is smaller with softer drooping leaves, and the leaves are thinner than tenax. It has also been used for making mats in the early days.
Phormium are now becoming known worldwide, especially for the range of new coloured hybrids. The difference between some of the new hybrids is often manifested in their form rather than colour alone - individual leaves within a mature clump of Phormium can often vary in colour and pattern although each named hybrid has its own distinctive markings and form.
Check out the product catalogue for some of these exciting cultivars.
As per the original habitat of the two main groups, tenax and cookianum, in New Zealand, Phormium thrives best in a range of conditions.
A hardy genera, Phormium grows throughout New Zealand which can be best described as having a temperate climate but with a range of environments from subtropical in the North, to the frosty conditions of the South Island (see a map of New Zealand).
As with most young plants, newly propagated Phormium stock needs protection in the winter from frost and snow. The optimum growing temperature falls between a low of 10ºC to 25ºC.
In a landscaping situation, Phormium prefers an acid soil, not too wet, but is a relatively foregiving garden plant. It thrives outdoors and does not normally require irrigation.
Phormium are propagated by division, normally done in winter by breaking up the larger clumps of plants.
A young plant of 20-30cm leaf height is produced exclusively for wholesale purchasers. These are normally planted into planter bags and grown on for sales to retail nurseries and landscapers.