Friday, July 25, 2008

New Zealand Flax

click photo to enlarge
The early European explorers of New Zealand gave the plant known to the native Maori people as Harakeke, the name New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax). They were intrigued by the way the Maoris processed the leaves of the plant to produce a fibrous material suitable for clothing, and it reminded them of the European flax (Linum usitatissimum). In fact, the two plants are quite different species, the antipodean variety being closely related to day lilies (Hemerocalis).

As well as clothing, New Zealand's indigenous people used the flax for baskets, eel traps, nets, cord, mats, sandals, bags and many other purposes including medicinal. The plant continues to be harvested today for the manufacture of high quality hand-made paper. However, it is principally as an ornamental plant that New Zealand Flax is most valued. Architects like it for its size and presence: developers value its "modernity" and durability. A single plant can be 4 metres across, with leaves usually 1 to 2.5 metres long, and flower spikes as tall as 4 to 5 metres. About 75 cultivars are currently grown, coming in a range of colours from almost purple, through light and dark green, brown, reddish-green, variegated, and with stripes of yellow, white or red.

The photograph shows two rain-spattered leaves - one young, and one more mature - from the same plant in my garden . I think it is an example of the variety known as "Alison Blackman", though as usual, if anyone knows that to be wrong, please get in touch.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f11
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On