Is there a Phormium in your future?

Phormium, a native New Zealander, is a relative newcomer to the Northwest garden scene. It has long been grown in California as a strong growing upright and dramatic ‘ornamental-grass-on-steroids’ accent plant. Since its look tends to sell itself, this little blurb about Phormium is mainly to acquaint you with the varieties Portland Nursery usually stocks and to dispel some common misconceptions about its cultural care.

A peek at the Sunset Western Garden Book entry on the subject will show a low end zone rating of 7-9 (Portland is in zone 6 by Sunset zoning system) and warns of freezing potential in zones 5 and 6. While it is possible for Phormium to freeze in temperatures of 20 degrees and below, a quick look around town will reveal that freezing is not an inevitable destiny for Phormium here. A few cultural provisos will help.

Though this plant is often part of the California drought gardening palette, we recommend adequate water and fertilizer in our area to encourage a good deep root system. Our winter waterlogged heavy soils in combination with freezing temperatures can be deadly to a poorly rooted Phormium, but where plants experience improved soil drainage, regular water through summer and protection from desiccating winds in winter, New Zealand Flax will thrive. Planting early in the season to ensure plenty of rooting time can help as well. But, if Mother Nature throws a real arctic event we have to be philosophical.

An advantage we do have as a cooler growing area for Phormium is that the color in the foliage stays dark and full sun exposure tends not to bleach out even the lighter colors in the variegated varieties. They all make striking and unusual accents to our gardens.

All keep their leaves in winter, thrive in sun to part shade and perform well in containers, alone or with other plants.

Here are some varieties we normally have in stock. Stock varies, so check ahead if you are set on a certain variety. Click on photos to enlarge.

Low-growing cultivars

Amazing Red

Bold rapier shaped dark-brown leaves with fine dark brown margins. Height 30-36” tall.

Phormium 'Apricot Queen'

Phormium 'Apricot Queen'

Soft pastel yellow edged green with a tinge of apricot on edges

Height 24-30” tall.


Phormium 'Carousel'

Green leaves with a thick pink edge

Height 18-24”.


Phormium 'Rainbow Sunrise'

Pink in the center with bronze edges

Height 24-30”.


Phormium 'Shiraz'

Thick clear wine red leaves are very upright

Height 24-30”.


Phormium 'Wings of Gold'

Olive green with creamy yellow margin

Height 24-30”.

Platt’s Black

Nice matte chocolate leaves tend to arch rather than point straight up

Height 24-36”.


Salmon pink with lt green and yellow stripes

Height 18-24”.

Medium to tall cultivars


Phormium atropurpureum

Thick, sword-like upright, leathery purple red - leaves tend to arch as plant matures.

Grows to a height of 5-6'.

Dusky Chief

Showy, dark purple red

Height 3-4’.


Phormium 'Misty Cream'

Yellow, apricot, pink & brown leaves

Height 4-5’.


Phormium 'Pink Stripe'

Bronze-green leaves edged bright pink.


Phormium 'Rainbow Queen'

Bronze green center with thick salmon pink edges.

Height 3-4’.


Phormium 'Yellow Wave'

Center looks like “spring green” crayons colored with bright green edge.

Arching habit, height 3-4’.


Phormium 'Golden Ray'

Narrow olive green center with creamy yellow edges and very slight pink tinge.

Height 3-4’.

Find the Perfect Grasses for your Garden

Grasses are a great choice to add structure, color and movement to the garden.

Work them into any garden style as focal points or accents and you'll be delighted with their graceful ease.