Harakeke collection paoa at the Auckland Botanic Gardens

Harakeke Collection

Visit the Harakeke Collection and discover some of the beautiful stories of harakeke

Harakeke: New Zealand flax

Science gives harakeke one name, Phormium, but Māori have many names for harakeke based on a plant’s use and features. Visit the Harakeke Collection and discover some of the beautiful stories of harakeke - if you listen carefully, there are many deep layers of meaning.

The Harakeke Collection has been selected over the centuries by Māori weavers from all over New Zealand. Each variety has been especially chosen for its unique leaf and fibre properties and specific use in weaving. Harakeke is an incredibly important plant for Māori - traditionally it was used to make many important everyday items such as kākahu (garments), kete (kits), taura (rope), whāriki (matting) and rourou (food baskets).

To learn more about, and from, this precious tradition - keep an eye on our events calendar. We provide on-going opportunities to learn how to harvest and weave harakeke and the protocols that apply. We also provide material to groups wishing to use traditional harakeke in weaving, for education and research.

Cultural
Harakeke weavers - Auckland Botanic Gardens
Harakeke weavers - Auckland Botanic Gardens

Proverb

Poipora te rito o te harakeke

Kia whakakaha

Ka whenei te tuitui o nga iwi

Kia whakakotahi

Nurture the young

So the family stays strong

That we me be woven

Together as one people

Harakeke has always been a precious plant to Maori. Harakeke is variable with individual plants exhibiting superior qualities for weaving or extracting muka (fibre). Maori grew and selected the best plants and propagated them vegetatively, by division, so that their true qualities were maintained.

Traditionally a Karakia (prayer) precedes harvesting. Maori see the fan-shaped harakeke as a whānau or family. The precious rito, or inner shoot, is like a child and must never be removed. The awhi rito stand on each side of the rito – they are the mātua or parents – they also are never harvested.

This collection commenced in 1989 with the donation of 23 weaving cultivars by the late Mr Buckley Fyers of Tuakau. He collected harakeke from every source available and established a planting in Tuakau’s Centennial Park. He was passionate about the conservation of harakeke and was very keen that we had a collection here at Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Divisions of a further 25 cultivars were obtained through Sue Scheele in 1996 from the Rene Orchiston National New Zealand Flax Collection at Landcare Research in Havelock North. Rene Orchiston travelled to marae across New Zealand, collecting harakeke and documenting its uses. She kept around 50 of these traditional weaving varieties in cultivation and later donated them to Landcare Research – Manaaki Whenua, which became the kaitiaki of the collection.

For more information on the varieties of harakeke and the National New Zealand Flax Collection, visit the Landcare Research website.

Gardening Tips for harakeke
Harvesting harakeke - Auckland Botanic Gardens

Harvesting harakeke demonstration at Auckland Botanic Gardens with Kerry Gillbanks

  • Apply a layer of organic mulch regularly. Harakeke will grow in almost any soil type, but will produce better quality fibre in rich, light, moist soil with good drainage.
  • Encourage foliage growth by applying fertilisers containing nitrogen and phosphorous e.g. blood and bone every Spring
  • To maintain a healthy and beautiful plant, see the fan-shaped harakeke as a whānau or family. The precious rito, or inner shoot, is like a child and must never be removed. The awhi rito stand on each side of the rito – they are the mātua or parents – they also are never harvested.
  • Promote vigorous new growth, harvesting foliage using traditional techniques – remove older outer foliage and leave the rito and awhi rito, the middle 3-5 leaves, of every fan untouched.
  • Remove flower stalks before the seed capsules form - Harakeke or Phormium cultivars do not grow true from seed - they must be propagated by root division to ensure the true plant is maintained.
  • Rejuvenate older plants by dividing and replanting. To propagate young fans, trim back to the rito and awhi rito leaves on either side and leave some root material attached.
  • Plant harakeke at least a couple of metres apart to ensure ease of access for harvesting and pruning and to allow light and air movement to help prevent scale and fungal disease.
Conservation

Auckland Botanic Garden conserves all known cultivars of harakeke through curation at the Gardens and enables distribution to others involved in the conservation of plants.

Research

Auckland Botanic Gardens are conserving all known cultivars of harakeke through curation at the Gardens and enabling the distribution to others involved in the conservation of plants. For more information or recommendations please contact us.