Flax (harakeke)

Flax (harakeke) was the most valuable of all plants to Māori, used to weave rope, nets, cloaks, skirts, mats, baskets, footwear. The tough leaf fibres protect the leaves from wind damage and allow the huge-tussocks' to project their leaves
above the water in swamps.

The name 'flax' comes from the Europeans who saw that the leaves were used for fibre like the flax of Europe which was used to make linen. Europeans harvested the leaves and made rope for sailing vessel rigging in flaxmills. Much of the flax swampland was cleared in this way and the swamps then drained for farms.

All parts of the plant are used medicinally, especially the gum from the leaves, which is antiseptic, and a decoction from the underground stems for digestive disorders.

Harakeke produces tall flower stalks with a ladderlike arrangement of nectar producing flowers ideal for nectar-drinking birds like tūī and bellbird. There is another smaller species of flax called wharariki (Phormium cookianum), that grows along coastal bluffs and also on mountain rocks. There are many coloured 'cultivars' of flax that have been bred for use in gardens, worldwide.



Flax—photo Amber Tate

Flax flowers

Flax flowers—photo Amber Tate