kota's memex

harakeke wharariki

There are two identified species of flax in aotearoa - common flax (harakeke) and mountain flax (wharariki).


Common flax is found throughout the country, especially in wet areas, while mountain flax is found both at higher altitudes and along exposed coastlines.

Common flax grows up to three metres high and its flower stalks can reach up to four metres. It has seedpods that stand upright from the stems.

Mountain flax never grows as large as common flax, rarely reaching more than 1.6 metres high, and its seedpods hang down.

Within the two flax species, there are numerous different varieties of flax. Some have drooping, floppy leaves while others grow as stiff and upright as spears. Flax flowers can vary in colour from yellow to red to orange.


Until the country was clearcut and covered in sheep flax was the largest export by far due to it's great strength. Each pā typically had a ‘pā harakeke’, or flax plantation. Different varieties were specially grown for their strength, softness, colour and fibre content.

The uses of the flax fibre were numerous and varied. Clothing, mats, plates, baskets, ropes, bird snares, lashings, fishing lines and nets were all made from flax leaves. Floats or rafts were made out of bundles of dried flower stalks. The abundant nectar from flax flowers was used to sweeten food and beverages.


When harakeke leaves are removed from the plant, only the older leaves on the outside should be taken. It is believed the three inner layers of the plant represent a family. The outer layer represent the grandparents, whereas the inner layer of new shoots – the child – remain and are meant to be protect by the next inner layer of leaves, the parents.