Phormium tenax



Flax, known as harakeke in Māori, is a native plant of New Zealand. It is a versatile and distinctive plant with long, sword-like leaves that can reach up to 3 meters in length. The leaves are typically green but can vary in colour, ranging from dark green to bronze or red. Flax produces tall flowering spikes with clusters of small flowers, which can be red, yellow, orange, or green depending on the species. The plant's seed pods contain small black seeds.


Flax can be found in various habitats throughout New Zealand, including wetlands, coastal areas, and lowland forests. It is well-adapted to diverse environmental conditions and can tolerate both dry and marshy soils.

Cultural Importance

Flax holds significant cultural importance to the Māori people, who have a long history of utilising the plant for various purposes. The leaves are traditionally harvested and woven to create baskets, mats, and other woven crafts. Flax weaving, known as raranga or whāriki, is a revered art form that has been passed down through generations. The plant has cultural significance in Māori rituals and is often used as a symbol of family, community, and connection to the land.

Ecological Role

Flax plays a crucial ecological role in New Zealand's ecosystems. The plant's flowers attract a wide range of pollinators, including birds, bees, and insects, which aid in the pollination of other plant species. Flax provides habitat and food for various native birds and insects. Its leaves trap leaf litter and contribute to soil formation, while its extensive root system helps stabilise riverbanks, preventing erosion.

Associated Birds

Tui: Medium-sized honeyeaters known for their melodious songs and nectar feeding.

Silvereye: Small passerine birds that feed on Harakeke nectar, fruits, and insects.

Bellbird: Medium-sized songbirds attracted to Harakeke's nectar-rich flowers.

Fantail: Small insectivorous birds often seen foraging for insects within Harakeke stands.

Whitehead: Small songbirds that feed on Harakeke insects, contributing to insect control.

Conservation Status

Flax is not currently considered a threatened species. However, some local populations may face challenges due to habitat loss, invasive species, and changes in land use.

Interesting Facts

There are several flax species in New Zealand, including the iconic Phormium tenax (harakeke) and Phormium colensoi (mountain flax).

  • There are several flax species in New Zealand, including the iconic Phormium tenax (harakeke) and Phormium colensoi (mountain flax).
  • Flax flowers are rich in nectar and are an important food source for native bird species such as tui, bellbird, and kereru.
  • Māori traditionally used flax leaves to make medicinal preparations for treating various ailments.
  • Flax fibers were historically used for making clothing, ropes, and fishing nets.
  • The plant's strong and durable fibres have also been used in construction and for making paper.

Conservation Tips

To support the conservation of flax, you can cultivate flax plants in your garden or on public land, ensuring they have suitable growing conditions. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides near flax plants to protect pollinators and other beneficial insects that rely on them. Participate in local restoration efforts and education programs to raise awareness about the importance of preserving native plants like flax.