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Published: 25 March 2023

By Andy Ross

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New Zealand flax

Flax, Phormium tenax and Phormium cookianum, is a native New Zealand plant with a rich cultural history.

Originally (and still) used for medical purposes and to make kete (baskets) and rope by Maori communities, the plant was introduced to sailors who used it on their ships. By the middle of the 19th Century flax was being commercially harvested and was being exported to Australia and Europe. Although the industry rose and then fell, the plant is still being used in trials for lotions and creams, fine cloth for fashion, building material, pollution reduction and as a food for farm animals. 

This article from Te Ara gives a concise history of flax in New Zealand but it was these photographs, in the New Zealand Archives, of The Woolpack and Textile Company Ltd,  making woolpacks and matting in their factory in Foxton from flax that caught the attention. What a very useful plant. 

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