From New Zealand, these dramatic plants have many swordlike evergreen leaves that grow in a fan pattern; they're good massed or used as focal points. Many variegated selections provide year-round color in perennial and shrub borders, on hillsides, in seaside plantings, near swimming pools. Cool weather intensifies foliage colors. On established plants, branched clusters of tubular flowers appear in late spring or early summer, rising to twice the height of the foliage clump in some kinds. Hummingbirds love the flowers.
Rugged New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, and its selections are sturdy and fast growing. While most phormiums dislike humid summers and cold winters, New Zealand flax accepts the Southern climate. It takes almost any soil and tolerates drought and coastal conditions; good drainage, how- ever, is essential to success. Grow in containers wherever soil doesn't freeze in winter.
More finicky than Phormium tenax are forms of Phormium cookianium and the spectacular hybrids between these two species. They require a bit more water; in hot areas, their arching leaves need afternoon shade to prevent burning.
All phormiums are harmed by temperatures below 20F. In cold-winter areas, you can grow smaller sorts indoors or move larger containers to shelter when deep cold threatens.
Nursery plants in containers are deceptively small; when you plant, allow enough room to accommodate a mature specimen. Cut out flower stalks when blossoms wither. As leaves age, colors fade; cut out older (outer) ones as close to base as possible to maintain best appearance. On variegated sorts, watch for reversions to solid green or bronze; remove reverted crowns down to root level before they take over the clump. Clumps can remain in place indefinitely. To increase plantings, take individual crowns from clump edges; or divide large clumps (not an easy job).
phormium cookianum(Phormium colen-soi)
- Leaves arch gracefully, drooping at the tips; they grow 45 feet long, 2123 inches wide.
- Mature clumps are 45 feet tall, spreading to 810 feet or more.
- Black Adder grows 34 feet tall and wide, with glossy, deep burgundy-black leaves.
- Flamingo grows just 12 feet high and wide, with leaves in shades of orange, rose, light green, and yellow.
- Phormium c.
- hookeri 'Cream Delight' has leaves with a broad, creamy yellow central stripe and narrow green margins edged in dark red.
- Phormium c.
- Tricolor has green leaves margined in cream and red; foliage is flushed with rose in cool weather.
- These crosses between Phormium cookianum and Phormium tenax were selected for distinctive leaf color.
- Leaves are 12 inches wide unless otherwise noted.
- These are a few you'll find in the South.
- To 3 feet tall and wide with green leaves edged with bright cherry-red and completely red underneath.
- Erect growth to 57 feet tall and wide, with leaves to 3 inches wide.
- Olive or bronzy green foliage has stripes of pinkish red (aging to cream) at or near edges and a fine red edge; leaf undersides are grayish green.
- To 45 feet tall, 57 feet wide, with 2 inches-wide leaves in chartreuse with lime-green margins.
- Leaves can burn in hot sun.
new zealand flax
- Large, bold plant with bronzy green leaves to 9 feet long and 5 inches wide; rigid and mainly upright, curving mainly (if at all) near tips.
- Mature clumps are about as wide as or a little wider than high.
- Note that bronze-leafed selections take on a deeper color in full sun.