It is found throughout New Zealand. It is one of two identified species of flax in New Zealand.
Although it is called a flax, it is really a lily from the Agavaceae family.
It is one of the oldest plant species in New Zealand and it is unique to New Zealand.
With its sword-shaped leaves it is a common feature of the New Zealand landscape.
It grows up to 2 -3 metres high and its flower stalks can reach up to 4 metres. The flowers are brownish red in Summer, followed by black seed pods that stand upright from the stems.
It is very hardy and fast growing with wide environmental tolerances. It will grow in dry and wet conditions, withstand strong and coastal winds and are frost hardy.
It is used for hedging or shelter and in mixed native planting
It is also a pioneer plant meaning it should be one of the species planted first in a restoration planting plan as it establishes quickly when planted and shelters other plants.
When used for wetland planting its should be planted above the frequent flood levels as it resists flood waters and can be torn out of the bank.
The flowers of the Phormium tenax provide a rich nectar source for native birds such as tui and bellbirds.
Phormium tenax was very important to the traditional Maori with each pa or marae having its own flax plantation.
Phormium tenax was one of the fibre and medicinal plants used by the Maori.
The other naturally occurring species of Phormium is Phormium cookianum, the New Zealand mountain flax.
It is smaller, growing to1 metre and the seed pods hang down.