Not Your Run-of-the-mill Flax

Sturdy New Zealand harakeke

By Cushla McGaughey

Harakeke in the Waikanae Estuary

The European flax from which table linen and clothing are made is a rather delicate plant, with a dainty blue or pink flower.

Our sturdy New Zealand flaxes are no relation, simply owing that label to Captain James Cook.

Harakeke grows along tidal rivers and in lowland swamps. The stiff, upright leaves can reach 3 metres high. Woody stalks bearing the sprays of red flowers grow even taller. The seed pods are held upright too.

A multi-purpose plant

Maori made great use of harakeke fibre for things such as fishing nets, canoe sails, mats, cloaks and tukutuku panels. Harakeke remains a versatile medium for a wide range of arts and crafts, the fibre sometimes still being used for string and for wool bales as well.

Despite its misleading name, Mountain Flax grows just as commonly on coastal cliff faces as it does on mountain slopes. The flowers are usually orange or yellow and the twisted seed pods hang down.

Kakariki on Harakeke

Wharariki fibre can also be used for craft, but has not been of much wider use. It is neither as long nor as tough. On the other hand, the softer, graceful foliage make it a more popular garden plant and many colourful cultivars are available.

Birds like the nectar!

Both harakeke and wharariki produce nectar eagerly sought by tui and korimako.

The two plant species are abundant on Kapiti Island.

There Red-crowned Parakeets count it well worth the effort of drilling into seed pods to feast on the shiny black seeds.

 

 

Female korimako on wharariki
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