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Phormium hybrid
Phormium hybrid

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Zone
Zones 5, 7-9, 13-28, H1, H2
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Full, Partial
Regular WaterMinimal Water
Moderate, Minimal

Phormium

Agavaceae
Evergreen, Perennials

From New Zealand. Dramatic plants with many swordlike evergreen leaves that grow in a fan pattern; make good garden focal points. The many variegated selections provide year-round color in perennial and shrub borders, on hillsides, in seaside plantings, near swimming pools. Cool weather intensifies foliage colors. On established plants, branched clusters of tubular flowers appear in late spring or early summer, rising to twice the height of the foliage clump in some kinds. Nursery plants in containers are deceptively small; when you plant, allow enough room to accommodate a mature specimen. Cut out flower stalks when blossoms wither. As leaves age, colors fade; cut out older ones as close to the base as possible to maintain the best appearance. On variegated sorts, watch for reversions to solid green or bronze; remove reverted crowns down to the root level before they take over the clump. Clumps can remain in place indefinitely. To increase plantings, take individual crowns from clump edges; or divide large clumps.

Phormium cookianum

Leaves arch gracefully, drooping at the tips; they grow to 4–5 ft. long and 2 1/2–3 in. wide. Mature clumps are 4–5 ft. tall, spreading to 8–10 ft. or more. ‘Flamingo’ grows to just 1–2 ft. high and wide, with leaves in shades of orange, rose, light green, and yellow. P. c. hookeri ‘Cream Delight’ has leaves with a broad, creamy yellow central stripe and narrow green margins edged in dark red. P. c. h. ‘Tricolor’ has green leaves margined in cream and red; foliage is flushed with rose in cool weather.

Phormium hybrids

These crosses between P. cookianum and P. tenax were selected for distinctive leaf color. Leaves are 1 1/2–2 in. wide unless otherwise noted.

‘Apricot Queen’. To 3 ft. tall and 5 ft. wide. Leaves are 2–3 in. wide, light yellow with green margins; blushed with apricot in cool weather.

‘Bronze Baby’. To 3–5 ft. tall and wide. Leaves are deep reddish brown aging to deep bronze; narrow orange leaf edges and midrib (on underside) glow in sunlight.

‘Dark Delight’. Arching habit to 4 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide. Leaves are 1–2 in. wide; very dark but vivid reddish brown with a thin orange midrib.

‘Dazzler’. Slow grower to 3 ft. tall and 5–6 ft. wide, with twisting, arching leaves in scarlet striped with maroon.

‘Duet’. To 2–2 1/2 ft. tall and wide. Stiff, erect to slightly arching leaves to 1 3/4 in. wide are lime green with creamy yellow stripes at margins.

‘Dusky Chief’. Dense clump to 3–5 ft. tall and wide. Wine red leaves are 2–3 in. wide and have coral edges that glow when backlit.

‘Ed Carman’. Upright growth to 2–3 ft. tall and wide; bronze leaves are edged with narrow bands of light pink to white.

‘Firebird’. Stiffly upright, to 6 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Rose-red leaves have bronze-green margins.

‘Golden Ray’. Upright to slightly arching grower to 4–5 ft. tall and wide. Leaves are striped in green and cream, with a red edge.

‘Guardsman’. To 6–8 ft. tall and wide, with rigid, upright leaves to 3 in. wide. Bronze-maroon with a bright red border.

‘Jack Spratt’. To 1 1/2 ft. tall and wide, with 1/2-in.-wide, twisting, reddish brown leaves.

‘Jester’. To 1 1/2–2 1/2 ft. tall and wide. Arching leaves are rich pink with hints of orange, edged in lime green.

‘Maori Chief’ (‘Rainbow Chief’). Robust, upright to 6 ft. tall and 6–8 ft. wide. Leaves to 2 1/2 in. wide, green with rosy edges. Similar to ‘Sundowner’ but more refined.

‘Maori Maiden’ (‘Rainbow Maiden’). To 3–4 ft. tall and 4–6 ft. wide. Leaves to 1 3/4 in. wide are salmon-pink (fading to cream) with narrow olive green stripes at edges.

‘Maori Queen’ (‘Rainbow Queen’). To 3 ft. tall and 4–5 ft. wide. Shorter, more upright, narrower-leafed version of ‘Sundowner’. Stiff leaves to 2 1/4 in. wide are bronzy green, with broad marginal streaks of coral fading to cream.

‘Maori Sunrise’ (‘Rainbow Sunrise’). To 3 ft. tall and 5–6 ft. wide, with stiff leaves up to 2 1/2 in. across. Foliage is margined and striped in bronzy green; base color is pinkish orange in younger leaves, aging to cream in older ones.

‘Morticia’. To 3–4 ft. tall and wide, with stiff, purple-black leaves.

‘Pink Stripe’ (‘Pink Edge’). To 4–6 ft. tall and wide. Gray-green foliage has a purplish tinge. Each leaf has a bright pink margin that is broadest at the base.

‘Platt’s Black’. Somewhat arching growth to 2–3 ft. tall and wide; leaves up to 1 in. wide. One of the darkest varieties, with dark burgundy to nearly black leaves. Grows best in cooler climates.

‘Rainbow Warrior’. Similar to ‘Maori Maiden’ but with leaves in a somewhat darker salmon, fading to cream with age. Foliage turns nearly blood red in winter.

‘Sea Jade’. To 4–5 ft. tall and 5–6 ft. wide, with rather stiff, upright leaves to 2 1/2 in. wide. Maroon to bronze in center, with lime green margins. andundersides.

‘Sundowner’. Erect growth to 5–7 ft. tall and wide, with leaves to 3 in. wide. Olive or bronzy green foliage has stripes of pinkish red (aging to cream) at or near edges and a fine red edge; leaf undersides are grayish green.

‘Sunset’. To 4–6 ft. tall and wide. Stiffly upright leaves have slightly arching tips; color is apricot to pink, striped with green.

‘Surfer’. To 2–4 ft. tall and wide. Maroon-bronze leaves have grayish green undersides and a narrow, gray-green central stripe. Foliage is stiff but arching and twisting.

‘Thumbelina’. Similar to ‘Jack Spratt’ but more upright growing and a little darker.

‘Tiny Tiger’ (‘Aurea Nana’). A miniature, reaching barely 1 ft. tall and wide. Leaves are flushed pink in cool weather. ‘Tony Tiger’ is a 2-ft. version.

‘Tom Thumb’. Upright clump to 2–3 ft. tall and wide. Green, wavy-edged, 1/2-in.-wide leaves have red-bronze margins.

‘Yellow Wave’. To 4–5 ft. tall and 5–7 ft. wide, with 2 1/4-in.-wide leaves in chartreuse with lime green margins. Leaves can burn in hot sun.

Phormium tenax ‘Variegatum’
Phormium tenax ‘Variegatum’

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Phormium tenax

Large, bold plant with bronzy green leaves to 9 ft. long and 5 in. wide; rigid and mainly upright, curving mainly (if at all) near the tips. Mature clumps are about as wide as or a little wider than high. Vertical inflorescences—often to twice the height of the foliage clump—contain many dull red or reddish orange flowers; seedpods are twisted but held erect. Many choices, offering great variety in plant size and leaf color. Note that bronze-leafed varieties take on a deeper color in full sun.

Phormium ‘Black Adder’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)
Phormium ‘Black Adder’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)

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Phormium ‘Black Adder’

Dramatic dark burgundy foliage on this evergreen perennial from the Sunset Western Garden Collection holds its color and size. Great in mixed borders and containers, and can even be planted as a hedge. Leaves provide structure in flower arrangements.

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