Green Flax (Phormium Tenax)
New Zealand flax describes common New Zealand perennial plants Phormium tenax and Phormium cookianum, known by the Maori names harakeke and wharariki respectively. They are quite distinct from the Northern Hemisphere plant known as flax (Linum usitatissimum), but the genus was given the common name 'flax' by Anglophone Europeans as it too could be used for its fibers.
New Zealand flax produces long leaf fibers that have played an important role in the culture, history, and economy of New Zealand. Phormium tenax occurs naturally in New Zealand and Norfolk Island, while Phormium cookianum is endemic to New Zealand. Both species have been widely distributed to temperate regions of the world as economic fiber and ornamental plants. The tough, sword-shaped leaves grow up to three meters long and up to 125 mm wide. They are usually darkish green but sometimes have coloured edges and central ribs. Cultivated varieties range from light green through pink to deep russet bronze. There are numerous variegated cultivars with leaves marked by contrasting stripes in shades of green, red, bronze, pink and yellow.
The rigid flower stalks can be up to five meters long, projecting high above the foliage. In November (in New Zealand) they produce clumps of curving tube-like flowers which turn bright red when mature. These produce unusually large quantities of nectar to attract all nectar feeding birds such as the tui and insects. The seed pods that develop after pollination, each contain hundreds of seeds which are later widely dispersed by the wind.