NEW-ZEALAND FLAX

Phormium tenax

Asphodel [Xanthorrhoeaceae]

month8jun month8june month8jul month8july month8aug

status
statusZneophyte
 
flower
flower8red
 
flower
flower8orange
 
inner
inner8orange
 
morph
morph8zygo
 
petals
petalsZ6
(3+3)
type
typeZtubular
 
stem
stem8round
 

18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Up to 3 or 4m in height with basal leaves only. A stemless plant, with a few very long flowering spikes.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are curved upwards and have a somewhat stiff brutal appearance. Flowers emerge at intervals along the stem from a close-wrapping of thin sheaths. All flowers are held close to the flowering stalk.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
A cluster of flowers bursts from the side of the flowering stalk at regular intervals.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
The sheathings are striated whitish-purple bracts that are spirally wrapped around the flowering stalk. Flowers trying to break out betwixt sheaths and stalk.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Flowers emerge on alternate sides of the stalk.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Flowers have three lighter coloured petals and three darker sepals. They never open properly but remaining mostly tubular in form, with a distint curve towards the stalk.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
The flowers never open properly but remaining mostly tubular in form, with a distinct curve towards the stalk. Six curved stamens emerge bearing yellow pollen.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Stamens on this specimen red, 'petals' (actually tepals) orange.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Sword-shaped leaves in basal rosette. Leaves can grow to 3m in length.


18th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Leaves taper to a point, which is not as sharp as those on Yucca where the stiffness is increased by a strong longitudinal and inward curl.


27th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are grow folded in half lengthways, interleaved with other leaves folded in half alternately around them.


27th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Because of the strong fold, when the leaves grow taller and are blown by the wind, they are apt to split along the fold, as here.


27th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
The seeds pods are a very dark brownish-green, so dark as often to appear almost black against the bright sunlight.


27th June 2012, Marshside, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Seed pods are three-sided and perhaps longer than the protruding petals of the flower.


Not to be semantically confused with : Toadflaxes such as Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea) [a plant with similar name]

Many similarities to : Montbretia (Crocosmia × crocosmiflora), Pott's Montbtretia (Crocosmia pottsii) or Giant Montbretia (Crocosmia masoniorum) which both have long linear leaves with flowers emerging from a single curving stalk, but have smaller orange or red flowers. Also similar are Wild Gladiolus (Gladiolus illyricus) and Eastern Gladiolus (Gladiolus communis), but these have purple flowers.

Some similarities to : Yucca and to both (Common) Red-hot-Poker (Kniphofia uvaria) and Greater Red-Hot-Poker (Kniphofia × praecox) in the long sharp sword-shaped leaves (but not in any way the flowers).

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

No relation to : Toadflaxes such as Common Toadflax, nor to Perennial Flax, Fairy Flax or Cultivated Flax, nor to New-Zealand Pigmyweed nor New-Zealand Willowherb, nor to New-Zealand Holly or New-Zealand Bitter-cress. [plants with similar names belonging to differing families].

It has six 'petals' (actually tepals): three inner and three outer.

Apart from the Scilly Islands it has hardly any natural presence in the UK, and almost all found elsewhere, such as this specimen, would have been planted, usually near the sea where it is used as an architectural ornamental plant. The above specimen is probably a cultivated variety which is not quite the same as that which grows naturally in New Zealand. It has a somewhat brutal appearance, especially when in seed.

A smaller version, Lesser New-Zealand Flax (Phormium cookianum) has also been spotted naturalising in the UK in the past in one place. Both grow naturally in New Zealand and were used by the Māori for the fibre in the leaves.

In New Zealand it is found growing alongside river banks and in swamps or low-lying areas. In the scientific name Phormium tenax, Phormium means 'basket' whilst tenax means 'tenacity', a name used by a glue manufacturer in the 1960's referring to its tenacious capacity to hold fast.

The fibres in the leaves are used to make wickerwork, baskets and perhaps rope, just as Cultivated Flax is, but that is not related to New-Zealand Flax. It has recently been found that New-Zealand Flax is closely related to Day-Lillys (in the Hemerocallis genus, which is in the same Asphodel Family (Xanthorrhoeaceae) that New-Zealand Flax resides in).

It contains poisonous Cucurbaticins and their glycosides the Arvenins such as Arvenin I which are more associated with plants of the Marrow family (Cucurbaticaeae) of which White Bryony is but one.


  Phormium tenax  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Xanthorrhoeaceae  

Distribution
 family8Asphodel family8Xanthorrhoeaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Phormium
Phormium
(New-Zealand Flax)

NEW-ZEALAND FLAX

Phormium tenax

Asphodel [Xanthorrhoeaceae]