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Phormium cookianum. Wharariki.

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Fishing and Hunting

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Phormium colensoi

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Wharariki is a generic name for P. cookianum. The name can also refer to a particular flax cultivar. (See other records).

Flax Commissioners Reports 1870, 1871:

1) Nairn, Hawkes Bay. Very broad plant, tall in leaf. Fibre very tender. Grows in very rich soils at bottoms of small valleys and sides of streams. Never planted. Used for baskets and matting.

2) Kelly, New Plymouth. Listed

3) Taranaki Native. Rough garments, ropes only

4) Heaphy, East Coast. Wararika. Also mangaeka. Fibre of ordinary character.

Williams 1971; Phormium cookianum, an inferior kind of New Zealand flax. A coarse floor mat of the same.

Best 1898, 1907 Urewera. Sleeping mats and such things made from green, unscutched leaf.

New Zealand Department Agriculture 1908; Drooping flax. Thin paperlike leaf, <5 ft long. Small yield per acre. Very fine, silky fibre but too easily bruised, broken in stripping. Fibre graded lowest because of bruised condition and lack of strength. Called `hill" or `mountain" flax. With improved stripping, it would be equal or superior to other varieties for fine high class work.

Andersen 1907 ; brittle fibre, used like kiekie for sleeping mats.

Selwyn 1847 ; Whararipi. Coarse kind of flax. Only for rough garments and floor mats.

Gregory Collection, Kaitaia. Whatariki. Kit flax. Common, ordinary flax. Grows anywhere. Has kōrari.

Drysdale & McGregor 1910 ; Department of Agriculture variety trials at Weraroa. This plant damaged by flax grub. Extremely fine fibre, destroyed by machinery in use.

Te Rangi Hiroa 1923 ; "On account of its softness and ease of manipulation it was considered by the Whanganui people to be the best material for plaiting purposes, though the fibre was useless for weaving. Some tribes, such as Ngā-Rauru, of south Taranaki, where Phormium tenax is abundant, have imported it to their district, where it is cultivated for plaiting baskets, mats, and burden-carriers"

Narrower in the blade and if you bend it, it will break and crack (Tunuku Karetai to Beattie, MS 582/E/11, Hocken). Little fibre, found on Tītī islands but not near the Bluff (Te Paro to Beattie, ibid).

From Hutton, Appendix to the Flax Commissioners Report 1871, from a lecture delivered to the Auckland Institute, 12/7/1870.

i) Leaves erect or slightly drooping, generally rich green, not glaucous below, margins and midrib generally green, or yellowish white; butt white, never red, point acute. Flower stalk 9-10 ft high and 1 in. in diameter. Flowers red. Plant seldom more than 7 ft high. The best and strongest variety of Phormium colensoi

ii) There is also a yellow leaved variety, which has sometimes yellow flowers, with which I am not so well acquainted. Its leaves are very brittle. It grows at Coromandel, between Kapanga and the Waiau.

iii) The same, or perhaps another variety, grows on hills or precipitous places. Its leaves are of a yellow colour, and often so brittle that a man can break a strip more than an inch in breadth with ease. P. colensoi rare in Auckland Province compared to P. tenax. In some parts of the South Island the reverse is true.

"The Rev. N. Codrington told me that the flax plant in Norfolk Island grows generally on the sea cliffs, and it is therefore possible that it may be P. Colensoi and not P. tenax; which would be sufficient to account for the failure experienced in trying to produce fibre from it, for the fibres of P. Colensoi break off so short that the Māoris never attempt to prepare it."

Strength tests on leaves of Wharariki showed an average breaking strain of 34 lbs. (cf 48 lbs, Tīhore)

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Leaves used for fishing nets (Kirk 1870).

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Poultice for ngene or puku - scrofulous wens and tumours (Bell 1890).

The mucilage at the base of flax leaves was used for burns. The mountain species were more valuable. ( K. Given 1940, from notes of a lecture given by Lucy Cranwell in 1941)

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A Ngati Maru tradition is outlined in White 1887; Vol IV. A new kind of mat called tātara ( a loose, open mat) brought to Whakatiwai by some people of the other tribes who were travelling. Mat made from wharariki. Much admired. The people asked where the flax grew, were told in Hauraki (Thames).

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28 May 2007
5 July 2020
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