New Zealand Flax

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New Zealand has given the world some fabulous plants, including the New Zealand Christmas tree or pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) and the cordylines. But arguably one of the best, most popular and useful New Zealand native plants is the humble flax (Phormium sp.).

Flax was traditionally used by the Maoris to make clothes, mats, dishes, baskets, ropes, bird snares, fishing lines and nets. It was also used for healing and as a disinfectant. Gardeners have long valued these large, clumping perennials for their dramatic, sword-shaped, dark green to greenish-yellow leaves. They are tough, frost hardy, and will grow in a wide range of climates.

In recent years hybridisers have produced flax cultivars in the most extraordinary range of colours, including oranges, reds, apricots, yellows and mixtures of greens. This has made it possible for people living in cool areas to create gardens that are every bit as raucous, happy and colourful as any tropical garden in the world.

New Zealand Flax Hybridisers’ Nursery

Don visited David King and his wife, Gillian Ellis, who grow and breed phormium for export both as plants and cut foliage. Flax foliage is sought after by florists because it is colourful, flexible and long lasting. In fact, it is so popular that David and Gill find it hard to keep up with the demand.

David showed Don an exciting new flax cultivar called ‘Pizazz’, which has leaves with green, carmine, orange and yellow tones. ‘Pizazz’ is still being grown up to commercial numbers and won’t be available for another three or four years. David also ran through some of the wonderful cultivars that are commercially available, including:

Dwarf growth habit. Twisted, bronze-green leaves shading to brown at the edges.

‘Jack Spratt’
Smaller growing cultivar. Narrow, slightly twisted greenish-brown leaves, shading to dark brown at the edges.

‘Tom Thumb’
Narrow, deep-green leaves with a bronze margin.

‘Rainbow Sunrise’
Leaves thinly striped with bronzy green and salmon orange.

‘Glowing Embers’
Upright, tidy grower. Green younger leaves mature to salmon pink then fade to yellow as they age. (Available from November in Australia.)

Further information

Our segment was filmed with:
David King and Gillian Ellis
New Zealand Flax Hybridisers’ Nursery
613 Pyes Pa Road
Pyes Pa
Bay of Plenty NZ
Phone: 0011-64-7543 0735