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Phormium tenax - J.R.Forst.&G.Forst.

Common Name New Zealand Flax, Coastal Flax, New Zealand Hemp
Family Agavaceae
USDA hardiness 8-10
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Lowland swamps and intermittently flooded land, North South Stewart, Chatham and Auckland Islands[44].
Range New Zealand. Naturalized in Britain in S.W. England[17].
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Frost Hardy Moist Soil Wet Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Phormium tenax New Zealand Flax, Coastal Flax, New Zealand Hemp

Phormium tenax New Zealand Flax, Coastal Flax, New Zealand Hemp


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Bloom Color: Red. Main Bloom Time: Early summer, Late spring. Form: Upright or erect.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Phormium tenax is an evergreen Perennial growing to 3 m (9ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 8 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower from June to July. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs).
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in saline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map



Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Bog Garden; Cultivated Beds;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Nectar
Edible Uses: Coffee  Gum  Gum

The roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute[153, 173]. An edible nectar is obtained from the flowers[173]. Very wholesome eating[183]. A long hollow grass-stalk or straw is used to suck it out of the flowers[183]. An edible gum is obtained from the base of the leaves[173].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

None known

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Adhesive  Alcohol  Basketry  Dye  Fibre  Gum  Gum  Paper  Tannin

A very high quality pliable fibre is obtained from the leaves[11, 57, 61, 128, 153]. It is used in the manufacture of ropes (they are not very strong[46]), twine, fine cloth etc. The fibre can also be used for making paper[189] The leaves are harvested in summer, they are scraped to remove the outer skin and are then soaked in water for 2 hours prior to cooking. The fibres are cooked for 24 hours with lye and then beaten in a ball mill for 4 hours. They make a cream paper[189]. The split leaves can be used to make nets, cloaks, sandals, straps etc[153]. They are also used in making paper and basket making[153, 169]. A strip of a leaf is an excellent emergency string substitute for tying up plants in the garden, it can be tied into a knot without breaking[128]. The leaf pulp, after the fibre has been removed, can be fermented to make alcohol[153]. A gum found in the leaves is used as a paper glue[173]. A brown dye is obtained from the flowers[168], it does not require a mordant[169]. A terra-cotta dye is obtained from the seedpods[168]. A mauve can also be obtained[168]. The flowers are rich in tannin[168].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Fiber  Management: Standard  Minor Global Crop

Landscape Uses:Border, Container, Foundation, Massing, Specimen. Prefers a rich loamy soil[1] but is not too fussy, succeeding in peaty soils and in boggy moorland[11]. Tolerates light shade[1] but prefers full sun[200]. Plants can be grown in quite coarse grass, which can be cut annually in the autumn[233]. Prefers a sheltered position[42] but tolerates maritime exposure[75]. Plants tolerate occasional flooding with saline water[200]. Plants can withstand temperatures down to about -11°c[42], but they can be killed in very severe winters in Britain[11]. A polymorphic species[78], there are many named varieties grown in Britain[11, 200]. This species hybridizes readily with P. colensoi and there are many named forms that may be hybrids with that species[11]. This plant has been considered for commercial cultivation for its fibre, though there is some difficulty in mechanically extracting the fibres due to the presence of a gum in the leaves. An alkali has been successfully used to break down the gum but this weakens the fibre. The Maoris had selected many different cultivars for different uses[153]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer or rabbits[233]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Attractive flowers or blooms.

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Fiber  Clothing, rugs, sheets, blankets etc. Currently, almost none of our fiber are produced from perennial crops but could be!
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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The seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed in February in a cold frame. Germination is sometimes poor but should take place in 1 - 6 months at 15°c. The seedlings are very variable. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. The seed remains viable for about 12 months in normal storage[1]. Division in spring as growth commences. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Native Plant Search

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Phormium cookianumWhararikiPerennial1.2 7-10  LMHSNMWe202

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


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Readers comment

   Thu Oct 12 2006

I am interested in which animals eat parts of NZ flax. Also which animals now extinct ate the plant. I have seen plants where sheep have apparently stripped the upper ends of leaves of the non-fibrous material leaving the "beaten" fibres.

mysteriously eaten   Thu Nov 2 2006

I'm interested in what animal(s) eat phormium "bronze baby". We have some bronze baby that were eaten to the root.

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future.   Mon Nov 6 2006

The only creature we have read about that eats New Zealand Flax plants in New Zealand is a bird called the Pukeko - it seems to have a similar mainly ground-dwelling habit like the Pheasant. It is quite likely that other creatures also eat the plant, though looking at the leaves you wonder why!

David Nicholls   Sun Nov 26 2006

I feel much more comfortable using flax leaves for tying stakes to trees. Although they are increadably strong initially,they are likely to have disintegrated or weakened before a tree gets so big it starts to get cut by a non-organic tying material like plastic or metal, which can cut into the tree possibly killing it. That's happened to me. I've been using it this way for a year, so far so good. Cant give any guarantees but thought approach worth a mention.

David Nicholls   Sun Nov 26 2006

I feel much more comfortable using flax leaves for tying stakes to trees as although they are increadably strong initially,they are likely to have disintegrated or weakened before a tree gets so big it starts to get cut by a non-organic fastening material like plastic or metal, which can cut into the tree possibly killing it. It's happened to me before. I've been using it this way for a year, so far so good.

Edible use of immature seeds - I haven't managed to cross reference this elsewhere yet.   Oct 2 2011 12:00AM

Wild Picnic

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