Native plants

Swamp flax

Scientific name: Phormium tenax
Maori name: Harakeke
Other names: Flax

Pioneer Other plant - native to the Wellington Region
Suits: damp, dry, sunny, exposure, coastal forest garden, coastal and dune garden, small garden or balcony, wetlands and water features

About Swamp flax

A robust and well known plant in gardens with its long sword-shaped leaves up to 2 metre tall and flower stalks that can reach up to 4 metres. It is very hardy and fast growing with wide range of environmental tolerances. It will grow in dry and/or wet conditions, withstand strong coastal winds and are even frost hardy. Swamp flax can is common from lowland and coastal areas to montane forest, usually but not exclusively, in wetlands and in open ground along riversides.

It can be used as a pioneer plant species and should be planted first in a restoration plan as it establishes quickly and will shelters other plants. Both species of Phormium will often support a large community of animals, providing shelter and an extensive food resource. Tui, bellbirds, saddlebacks, short tailed bats, geckos and several types of insects, like species of native bees feed on the nectar from the flowers. Many fascinating insects will go through their complete lifecycle on a flax plant without causing any harm to this plant. The flowers in, October to November (-January) are brownish red, but can also be pink or yellow. They are followed by black seed pods that stand upright from the stems like small bananas.

Traditional uses of flax, no fibre plant was more important to Maori than flax. Each pa or marae typically had a pa harakeke or flax plantation. Flax grows well in pots and containers with full sun. It tolerates both dry and moist soil and will always look great.


Provides for birds

  Nectar Fruit Seeds
Key . . .

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Read more about gardening for birds or see full nectar calendar.

Provides for lizards

  • Clump forming for camouflage and insects
  • Nectar
  • Protection from predators
  • Complexity and height
  • Ground cover for retreat

Read more about gardening for lizards.

More detail