New Zealand flax – Phormium tenax – Phormium tenax – Garden plants – New Zealand flax – Phormium tenax – Shrubs

The Phormium tenax or New Zealand flax is an evergreen shrub native to New Zealand. It consists of large heads of long ribbon-like leaves, even 120-150 cm long, which over time exceed two meters in height. The leaves are bright green, but there are hybrids with variegated, tricoloured or purple leaves; in summer they produce panicle-like inflorescences formed by white or pink tubular flowers, at the apex of stems even 3-4 metres tall.

I phormium tenax flowers are difficult to flower when planted in pots or in areas with very cold winters. These quite particular plants are not easily found in our gardens, but they are suitable to be placed side by side to the Mediterranean flora, to the flower perennials or to the small shrubs. They can be cultivated also in pot, both in the garden and in the apartment, in this case they keep within a fairly modest size.

The Phormium has become, in recent years, a plant of great fashion and is now easily found in many nurseries, from the most supplied to the smallest.

It was once used only in the flowerbeds of seaside towns: it is in fact decorative at any time of the year (thanks to its persistent leaves), its maintenance is very limited and, under the right conditions, it proves to be resistant to all kinds of adversities.

Thanks to the work of the hybridizers, the range of cultivars has been greatly enriched. On the market we can find them in a thousand different shades and sizes. It is always easier to find one that suits our needs, whether we want to put it in the garden or keep it in a pot, to furnish a balcony or a terrace.

In addition to its robustness, the strong point of this herbaceous plant is undoubtedly its architectural and graphic appearance, which blends beautifully with contemporary furnishings and minimalist green spaces.


Characteristics of the Phormium

The genus Phormium includes 2 species of evergreen plants from New Zealand and Norfolk Island. They grow in a wide variety of different environments, from marshes to coastal cliffs to mountain slopes. They are caespitose plants with deep, fleshy roots. The leaves are long and ribbon-like, leathery and fibrous, with mostly curved apex. The stems are sturdy and branch rigidly at right angles; in summer they bear spike-shaped flowers in red, orange and yellow.


Family, genus, species

 Phormiaceae, gen. phormium 2 species: tenax and cookianum

Common name

 New Zealand flax

Type of plant

 Cespitose herb with persistent foliage

Height at maturity

 From 30 to 3 m


 From 50 cm to 2 m


 Low and easy

Water requirements


Speed of growth



 Seed, division


 Semirustic to rustic (depending on cultivar): -12° to -7°C


 Sun-half shade


 Border, low hedge, rock garden, isolated specimen, outdoor pot


 Not demanding, possibly slightly clayey and deep

Soil moisture

 Slightly moist

The Phormium tenax is characterized by erect leaves, grey in the lower page, up to 3 metres long, often bordered by red or orange. The flower stems stand on the foliage with abundant reddish flowers of about 4 cm in diameter.

The Phormium cookianum differs from the previous one for its curved leaves, with a showy pink colouring at the base. They are usually up to 2 metres long. In summer they produce greenish or yellow flowers. It adapts better to different growing conditions.

The cultivars on the market derive from the hybridization between these two species. According to the aesthetics of the leaves are divided into:

Erected with rigid and erect foliage

Enlarged with less rigid leaves, but always upright, with folded tops

Curved soft and less sustained leaves, which bend a lot and whose apexes, often, touch the ground

Returns small and rigid leaves, keeled, with wavy and twisted margins

Dwarf leaves grouped in a narrow head and small in size

  • Formio For many years available in nurseries the Phormium, originating in New Zealand, only recently are used in gardens, until a few years ago were prevalent in Europe mainly varieties of flowers and flowers.
  • Fogliame piante Phormium The varieties and species of the genus called Phormium, are plants simple to cultivate and very resistant. If they grow in continental contexts, the summer irrigations are regular but not abundant,…

  • piante da giardino In this section we talk about shrubs, a collection of detailed information about the different species grown in our gardens, tips for the right choice according to the needs of your ally…


PhormiumThe New Zealand flax plants should be placed in a sunny place, or in a partial shade, provided that it is very bright; the >>New Zealand flax plants should be placed in a sunny place, or in a partial shade, provided that they are very bright. phormium tenax can withstand temperatures close to -8°C, therefore in areas with very cold winters it is best to place them in a place sheltered from the wind, and cover them with non-woven fabric during the cold winter days.

If cultivated in the open ground, they can be exposed in full sun without any particular problems; if planted in pots, they require sunny areas, but sheltered from direct rays.

In this respect, they are very adaptable: they grow well both in full sun and in mid-shade. In the latter case, however, we must take particular care of the draining of the water, making sure that there is no stagnation, especially during the winter season.


phormiumThe New Zealand flax does not need excessive watering, as it bears without any problems the drought, provided of short duration; watering sporadically, intensifying the watering a little during the summer months. Check that the soil maintains the right humidity without presenting excessive stagnations of water that would harm the plant.

At the end of the winter, bury the organic fertiliser near the plant or spread slow release granular fertiliser for green plants on the soil.

Watering must be quite frequent, especially in summer. Never let the soil dry out completely between treatments.


phormium For a correct cultivation, the New Zealand flax plants are to be placed in loose, deep and well drained soil, quite rich of organic matter.

If grown in pots, it is good to remember to repot them every 2-3 years, to allow an adequate development of the roots and to avoid that the plant suffers from the lack of vital space for its proper development.

New Zealand flax is a plant that gives its best as an isolated specimen or in rocky gardens, especially stony ones where the color and shape of its leaves stands out at its best.

A well mulched soil is also what allows it to grow vigorously, always preserving a minimum of moisture at the root level.

From this point of view, the hybrids of Phormium cookianum prove to be more resistant, as they are capable of withstanding even short periods of drought, windy areas and less deep soils. In this case, however, it is imperative that the drainage is always optimal, to avoid the onset of root rot.

The P. tenax, on the other hand, tends to be more delicate and less suitable for Mediterranean gardens. It always needs a good level of humidity at the root level as its places of origin are swamps and marshes.

The proximity of the sea hardly ever creates problems because they tolerate salt well.


The multiplication of New Zealand flax plants takes place by division of the heads, at the end of winter, or by seed in spring.

For the reproduction in heads, after having eliminated all the leaves, we proceed to carefully remove the head trying to avoid damaging the roots; at this point, with a sharp knife, we divide the rhizomes that will be planted, remembering to bury them not too deep to prevent them from rotting. For sowing, it is advisable to use boxes with loose soil.

Propagation by seed does not preserve the specific characteristics of the cultivars and is therefore not recommended.

An excellent method is instead the division of the heads, to be carried out between March and April on plants of at least 2 years of life.



 March to May or September to October









Withdrawal or winter cover


Pests and diseases

phormium I phormium tenax are rather rustic and resistant plants and are not often attacked by pests and diseases; they fear the attack of cochineal and rust and can present problems in case of too humid and cold environments or an excessive presence of water that can cause dangerous radical rottenness.

Vermin rarely attack this plant. It may happen that young specimens are attacked by the floury cochineal. This can be removed manually or with the help of cotton soaked in alcohol.


phormium striato It is generally classified as averagely rustic, although there are cultivars more or less resistant to the rigours of winter.

In general we say that it is always better not to go below -10°C, but for some already -5°C could be fatal. Much can depend on the duration of the frosts, the presence of the wind (which dries the leaves a lot) and the adequacy of the substrate.

In Central-Southern Italy and on the coasts (with the exception of the Apennine areas) the cultivation can be carried out everywhere without any problems whatsoever.

In the Po Valley we opt for the most resistant ones, if possible, and we choose a sheltered location. Ideally, they should be placed near a south-facing wall. It is essential to have a thick mulch. Small plants can be covered with a double or triple layer of non-woven fabric or transparent plastic. Alternatively, they can be grown in large pots to be moved into cold greenhouses during the winter.

How to plant the Phormium

Planting can be done in autumn (in areas with mild winters) or in spring (in northern regions).

How to proceed?

They are usually found for sale in pots.

We work the ground deep into the ground to make it soft and airy. If it is too compact, it is best to extract it and incorporate a good quantity of leaves, sand and a few handfuls of well-seasoned manure. On the bottom of the hole we prepare a thick draining layer of gravel. Let’s insert the plant so that the collar is at the same level as when it was in a pot. Let’s compact with the remaining soil and irrigate, continuing assiduously for at least the first month, in the absence of rain.

Crop care

– It is necessary to remove the old leaves in early spring (or eventually cut them all at ground level, so that they are completely renewed).

– From the beginning of the season to autumn, to stimulate growth, it is recommended to distribute a balanced fertilizer for green plants, liquid or granular slow release.

– Every two to three years it is essential to proceed, at the end of the winter, to the division of the heads, whether the plant lives in the ground or in pots. In particular, it is necessary to intervene after flowering. The tufts that have bloomed, in fact, perish in a short time and it is good to eliminate them to let the younger ones, created around them, grow up.

– We always check that the surrounding soil is well mulched, especially in summer: this will help to keep the roots cool, delaying water interventions.

New Zealand flax – Phormium tenax: Phormium variety






Large size(garden)

  Phormium tenax (type species)

 Rigid, leathery, medium green foliage, up to 3 m high and 2 m wide.


 Up to -10°C

  Phormium tenax ‘Variegatum’

 Stripes of cream and white.

H up to 2.5 m


 Up to -10°C

  Phormium Tenax & Purpureum & and ‘Atropurpureum’.

 Dark brown, purple or copper.

H up to 2.5 m


  Phormium “Yellow Wave.

 Large, curved, yellow leaves, variegated of green

90 cm


  Phormium Pink Stripe;

 Olive green with bright pink edges.

Up to 1.8 m

 Very decorative, up to -8°C

Medium size (garden and large vase)

 Rainbow Chief

 Large, bronze green up to 1.5 m long, pink streaked towards the edges


 Up to – 8°C

  Phormium & Jester&Apos;

 Bright pink and green streaks, greener towards the margin with pale central vein and orange margins.

Up to 1.2 m


Phormium Pink Panther;

 Bright pink with greyish brown stripes towards the edges and brown margins


  Phormium cookianum

(Type species)

 Tufts of soft leaves up to 1.60 m, pinkish


 Very resistant and not very demanding.

Up to -10°C

  Phormium Dazzler;

 Very showy, bronze with red streaks 0.90 m


 Durable and brightly coloured

  Phormium Dusky chief

 Abundant, black-purple with a lighter centre and intense red margins


  Phormium cookianum ‘Tricolor’

 Very curved with numerous cream streaks and red margin


  Phormium tenax ‘Apricot Queen’

 Leaves: young, pale apricot, then green, orange, yellowish with a brown margin.

0.70 m


  Phormium Maori Maiden;

 Central salmon-pink area that fades into pink-yellow, greenish bronze margins. Up to 90 cm


  Phormium Maori Sunrise

 Low tufts of curved salmon-pink leaves in the middle, tinged with yellow to bronze, greenish at the edges. 90 cm


 Very decorative, up to -8°C

  Phormium Flamingo

 Pink to dark pink with greyish green streaks and greyer edges.

90 cm


Small hymensions (garden hymns evaded medium)

Phormium Duet’

 Rigid, green in the middle and cream-white streaked at the edges

Approx. 30 cm


  Phormium Surfer Bronze

 Leaves tall, wavy, bronze with darker margins, 40 cm


  Phormium Thumbelina

 Bronze red with lighter streaks and very dark margins, 30 cm


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