New Zealand flax (Phormium)
Quick facts and care essentials
• Foliage perennial
• Zones 14-28
• Full Sun to light shade
• Regular to little watering
Fanlike clumps of many swordlike, vertical leaves give these plants their dramatic looks. The largest reach 6 feet tall and wide, but newer cultivars are available in heights as low as 1 foot (‘Jack Spratt’), and many are in the 2- to 4-foot range. Some are green; many are bronze or bronzy red; some are striped in green, cream, yellow, and/or red. New Zealand flaxes contrast well with a wide variety of other plants. They make nice accents around swimming pools; they also tolerate salt air and ocean spray.
P. tenax has stiff foliage; P. cookianum has laxer leaves that bend at the tips. Crosses between these two species have resulted in numerous cultivars of specific colors and forms. Those with stiffer foliage take full sun; those with bending leaf tips need light afternoon shade in hot-summer areas. All do well in ordinary garden soil, but they must have good drainage.