Mystery plant – do you know what this is?

Thank you to Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner (from the Pacific Bulb Society) for identifying my mystery plant.

The mystery plant has been identified as Phormium tenax or New Zealand Flax. According to Wikipedia

Phormium tenax (harakeke in Māori, New Zealand flax) is an evergreen perennial plant native to New Zealand and Norfolk Island that is an important fibre plant and a popular ornamental plant. The plant grows as a clump of long, straplike leaves, up to two meters long, from which arises a much taller flowering shoot, with dramatic yellow or red flowers.

The fibre has been widely used since the arrival of Māori to New Zealand, originally in Māori traditional textiles and also in rope and sail making after the arrival of Europeans up until at least WWII . . . Read more . . .

There are also different cultivars which have different coloured leaves including one with bronze coloured leaves (probably the one you have in your garden, Reggie). See the Wikipedia link for more information.

I know I should be able to identify this, but I don’t. And it’s been bugging me for a while. Can somebody please help me out?

It is a fairly big plant – the wall it is standing next to it is about 7-ft high. The leaves stay green throughout the year, and during the summer it gets these long flower spikes.






Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Nature/Environment


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


Subscribe to the Notes from Africa RSS and Twitter feeds to receive updates.

26 Comments on “Mystery plant – do you know what this is?”

  1. Lisa Wields Words
    December 9, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    No clue but its cool looking.

    • December 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

      Yeah, it is a cool looking plant! It makes for some interesting silhouette photos – especially at sunset.

  2. December 9, 2011 at 3:08 am #

    Wish I could help, Lisa, but I haven’t got a clue. Love the flowers though.

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:22 am #

      Yes, they are unusual flowers. I was just hoping that somebody would recognize them – and somebody did!

  3. Gian Banchero
    December 9, 2011 at 3:18 am #

    Hmmm, It’s a type of non-native plant one can find throughout most of California, I even have one at the side of the house… Probably from Latin America… Maybe because a lot of Latinos have the plant. It’s a beauty!

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:33 am #

      You might be thinking of plants in the Agave family which include Hesperaloe and Yucca plants. There are some which look really similar to my mystery plant. But as you will by now know, it has been identified as a New Zealand Flax plant. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  4. December 9, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    It reminds me of a canna lilly, but not quite. Maybe a cultivar? And it does look like a plant they grow in California, but I haven’t lived there in years. No help, am I?

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:35 am #

      Thanks for leaving a comment re: my mystery plant. I followed up all the leads before somebody finally told me what it was! 🙂 The effort wasn’t wasted though – learned a lot about those families of plants.

  5. December 9, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    Is it a type of Strelizia? It also looks a bit like Kangaroo Paw, or a cross between to 2.

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:36 am #

      It turned out not to be a Strelizia, but thanks for leaving a comment!

  6. Sarita Botha
    December 9, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Can’t help you, I am not good with plant recognition. It’s has pretty flowers, though.

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:36 am #

      It does have pretty flowers, doesn’t it? The sunbirds and sugarbirds love them for their nectar.

  7. December 9, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    lisa, i can’t even tell you what’s in my garden…but i’d like to have that one back there whatever it’s name. continue…

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:38 am #

      Well, now you know that it’s a New Zealand flax plant, you might to able to source one in your part of the world. According to what I’ve read they’re popular ornamental plants all over the world.

  8. December 9, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    I have one of those in my garden too. I have never really noticed it until those crazy flowers came out a few weeks ago.

    • December 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

      We have one of those in our garden too, though our leaves are reddish-brown in colour. The flower spikes are really interesting, aren’t they?

      I can’t remember what they’re called either… 😦

      • December 11, 2011 at 7:42 am #

        Now you know though. When I saw on Wikipedia that it had a bronze-leaf cultivar, I knew I had the right ID.

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:39 am #

      Once I’d taken the photos of the plant, I started seeing them in other gardens too. The nectar birds love the flowers.

  9. December 9, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    certainly looks like a strelizia relative to me

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:40 am #

      It’s interesting that I had several people tell me that it reminded them of a Strelizia. The leaves are quite different though.

  10. Lu
    December 10, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    I’m afraid that I also don’t really know. My best guess is a Watsonia of some kind?? – after perusing my field guide to wild flowers of South Africa!

    • December 11, 2011 at 7:44 am #

      I also considered a Watsonia, but the leaves and flowers aren’t really the same. I also have South African plant guides. Which in this case wouldn’t have helped at all since the plant is originally from New Zealand.

      • Lu
        December 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

        Ah, where’s that handy field guide to wild flowers of New Zealand when you need it? 😉

      • December 12, 2011 at 5:06 am #

        Exactly! 🙂

  11. December 12, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Gorgeous plant! Never saw one of those when I was living in Kenya, unfortunately.

    • December 12, 2011 at 5:09 am #

      Yes, it is quite stunning and attracts a lot of nectar birds. The plant comes from New Zealand and is only grown in gardens here in South Africa.

      You lived in Kenya? That must have been very interesting.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: