Protecting our history with harakeke - the National New Zealand Flax Collection
Harakeke (Phormium tenax; NZ flax) and wharariki (Phormium cookianum; mountain flax) are endemic to Aotearoa.
Flaxes have been used by Māori for centuries as an essential resource for clothing, kete (containers), whāriki (mats), hunting and fishing equipment, and even rongoā (medicine).
Manaaki Whenua is kaitiaki (guardian) of the National New Zealand Flax Collection. The collection is made up of over 300 plants. The five main collections include weaving varieties, ornamental garden plants, historical plants from the early flax industry, plants taken to offshore islands by both Māori and Pākehā, and a collection of plants representing what grows in the wild.
The most-prized part of the collection is the 50 traditional weaving varieties donated by Rene Orchiston of Gisborne and planted at the Manaaki Whenua Lincoln site in 1987. For generations, these plants were selected from the wild by Māori, and carefully named and cultivated in their pā harakeke (flax gardens).
Each of the 50 varieties at the Lincoln, were selected from natural stands and cultivated by Māori weavers for their unique leaf and fibre properties. Many varieties have been in cultivation for generations and include plants especially suited to weaving kete, whāriki, piupiu, and kākahu.
The National New Zealand Flax Collection and its associated databases (Ngā Tipu Whakaoranga and National NZ Flax Collection) are treasured by Manaaki Whenua and used for education and as a resource by weavers and scientists alike.
The National NZ Flax Collection is a Nationally Significant Database and Collection funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment's Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF).