The Harakeke, is a native plant and unique to New Zealand and is one of our most ancient plant species. And while the flowers and leaves make an interesting statement in their own natural environment, the leaves can also be made into flowers artistically.
Harakeke, or flax as it is more commonly known, is a very adaptable plant growing naturally throughout New Zealand. It is fond of low lying wetlands, damp, grassy spots along rivers and in coastal areas, but can survive in both wet and dry areas, and warm or cold climates, making this plant incredibly hardy and resilient. Harakeke is not botanically, a flax. It is actually a member of the day-lily family.
Wharariki, or mountain flax, is another type of flax that is also common in New Zealand growing primarily on cliffs and mountain slopes and is able to withstand much colder temperatures than harakeke.
The harakeke plant itself is easily recognisable with its long, pointed, sword-like leaves that fan out from the central rootstock planted firmly in the soil. The growing point (rito) is central to the fan-like arrangement that the flax leaves grow in. In Māori culture the rito is considered the baby of the fan and the leaves on either side of it are the awhi rito, or mātua (its parents). The leaves growing beside the awhi rito are the tūpuna, or grandparents of the fan.
The leaves can grow to a height of about 3 metres and anywhere from 2-12cm wide. Leaf colour varies from blue-green, green, yellowgreen through to bronze. There are several types of harakeke and each have a variety of colours in a single leaf making for a very stunning display in your garden.
In the centre of the harakeke bush grows long flower stalks (kōrari) reaching up to 4 metres in height. The flowers, generally red in colour, are designed to be pollinated by nectar-feeding native birds such as the tūī (pictured), korimako (bellbird) and pihipihi (waxeye), as the seed capsules are standing up right on the stem. The birds push their beaks down into the flower tube to feed on the nectar and seeds, and in doing so, pollen brushes onto the top of the bird’s head. It is then transferred to the next flower ready and waiting to be pollinated and thus the cycle goes on.
If you decide to fancy up your garden, be sure to protect your newly planted harakeke from Pukeko! It is their favourite thing to eat. Nom nom. 🙂
Photo credits: Pixabay, Pexels, and Pixabay.