This coming Friday 18th August, the Canterbury Botanical Society will be having a guided tour of the Rene Orchiston, living harakeke collection at Landcare Research, Lincoln. Meet outside the main reception, 54 Gerald St, by 1.25pm. Parking is limited, so it is recommended to find a roadside parking space, and walk to Landcare Research.
The collection comprises over 60 varieties of flax selected by Maori weavers and brought into cultivation for their diverse properties. To understand what I mean by that, download the catalogue (PDF) and read some of the descriptions.
Rene Orchiston collection – catalogue
The catalogue also has a brief introduction to the many uses and history of NZ flax, that is well worth reading.
The varieties include both swamp flax/harakeke (Phormium tenax) and mountain flax/wharariki (Phormium cookianum).
Harakeke is the 3m tall stiff bladed flax that fills the marshy ground beside lakes, rivers and lagoons as in this variety copied from the catalogue
Source: Rotoiti area.
Description: Straight, fairly long, medium green blades. Up to 2.5 m tall. Reddish-orange margin and keel. Very high flower heads but seldom flowers.
Uses: Excellent muka harakeke. The best Mrs Orchiston found
detail from a family portrait. My great grandmother modelling a bone patu with flax wrist loop, bone hei tiki and a feather cloak (colours are hand tints by the printer late 19th C)
for producing long strands of clean fibre with hāro method (stripping with a shell).
Good for piupiu because it is so easy to prepare. Especially good for ladies piupiu because of the length although the prepared strips do not dry as strong as other cultivars. When boiled for one minute, it dries to a cream colour. Ideal for whenu and aho in kākahu and for muka kete.
Without harakeke and it’s muka the weaving methods of taaniko and feather cloaks might not have developed.
harakeke, in a dune hollow, Rarangi, Marlborough
roadside harakeke, North Canterbury
former flax swamp being engulfed by a rising sea
former harakeke and raupo lagoon inundated by encroaching sea
harakeke (behind) on the coast north of Westport
harakeke, line the roadside on the coastal plain north of Westport
Wharariki is that tough and shiny chest high tussock that flexes to the wind in exposed sites from coastal cliffs up into the sub-alpine zone where it joins hebe, turpentine scrub and mountain daisies above the treeline. Wharariki is pliable but it is difficult to extract the fibre so is more likely to be used in weaving such as kete/baskets, as in this example from the catalogue
Source: Tairawhiti (East Coast).
Description: Short, bendy, bright yellow-green blades, giving the bush a yellowish
Uses: Very valuable for kete as it dries to a clear yellow when boiled for half a minute. Gives good contrast for patterns when used with other cultivars. When unboiled, it dries to rich bronze-golden shades. Not a muka variety.
mountain flax/wharariki coats a mountainside above Kahutara Saddle, Kaikoura
wharariki on a limestone stack Fox River, West Coast
wharariki on coastal rocks, north of Fox River, West Coast
stunted wharariki cling to the gate of the Sawcut Gorge, Marlborough
wharariki, amongst hebe, turpentine scrub and snow totara, high in the Saxton, Molesworth Station
For a full story on the history of NZ flax this link goes to a New Zealand Geographic article, that starts in a replica collection, in a paddock near Takaka Flax-the enduring fibre, NZ Geographic
Heres a condensed video, from paddock to wardrobe, of the making of a mans (short) piupiu.
kete: a basket
kākahu: a cloak
muka: the fibre that remains after the flesh and skin of the leaf is stripped away.
aho: in weaving, the weft.
piupiu: skirt of dried and jointed harakeke leaves woven at the waist to form a belt.
whenu: in weaving, the warp