Māori name: Harekeke

English name: Swamp Flax, Common Flax, or New Zealand Flax

Scientific name: Phormium tenax

NZ Status: Endemic

Conservation Status (NZTCS): Non threatened

Found: Harakeke grows throughout New Zealand from sea level to about 1,300m. It is commonly found alongside rivers and in swamps, and sometimes called swamp flax because of its affinity for damp locations.

Did you know? In Māori mythology, trickster Māui wove ropes from harakeke/flax, filling them with power, before lassoing Tama-nui-te-rā, the sun.

Photo Credit: Allison Buchan

One of New Zealand’s most distinctive native plants, harakeke is not, botanically, a flax, but a member of the day-lily family. The name flax comes from the fact that the long fibres extracted from the leaves are used in much the same way as those in linen flax (Linum usitatissimum) are used in the northern hemisphere. 

Harakeke is one of New Zealand’s most distinctive native plants. It has long, upright, often stiff leaves which can reach up to 4metres in length. 

The black flower stalks can grow up to 5 metres tall and the dull red, nectar-filled flowers attract masses of birds in kōanga/spring, particularly tūī and korimako. 

Harakeke fibres are used by practitioners of the Māori craft of raranga/weaving to create kete/baskets, whāriki/floor mats and gorgeous kākahu/cloaks as well as taura/ropes. 

Look for them: Harakeke can be seen in ZEALANDIA on Lake Road and in the wetlands area, flowering from late October through February.