Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’ (New Zealand Flax) – New Zealand Flax cultivar that grows to 3-4 feet tall with arching 2 inch wide leaves that have a central yellow band that is brighter when first emerging and fades to yellow-green by fall. Plant is wider than tall. Plant in full sun to light shade. Can tolerate fairly dry conditions (coastal) but looks best with occasional to regular irrigation. Hardy to 15-20 F. Possibly root hardy below these temperatures but with severe foliage damage unless protected. Prune out green foliage fans at base of plant to maintain yellow color. ‘Yellow Wave’ was selected from Rainbow Hybrid seedlings by Mr. F. Jury of Waitara, New Zealand. The popular and colorful cultivar ‘Jester’ is reported to be a sport of ‘Yellow Wave’. This plant is more prone to a bacterial leaf spot that is not widely noticed on other cultivars and for this reason we discontinued production of this plant. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’.

Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’

A Bit More

You can’t go out in public without spotting a Phormium or two (or three). This is because Phormium, with their sturdy growth habit and colorful, fibrous leaves, are one of the most useful plants in the landscape. Need a set of sentinels to mark an entryway? Phormiums. Need to fill a hot, dry parking lot strip? Phormiums. Upright accents in stately garden urns? Phormiums. Something colorful yet hardy near pools? Phormiums. There is a Phormium for nearly every garden and every growing condition.

Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’ provides a vibrant pop of color in the landscape with lemon-yellow leaves striped with bright-green margins. Growing 3-4’ tall and wide, this cultivar is a smaller, more graceful form of Phormium, with softly arching leaves. For best results, plant in full sun to part shade and provide light to regular water. Should any leaves revert to green, cut back to the base. Cold hardy to 15° F. ‘Yellow Wave’ is a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, and is a popular choice among landscape contractors, designers and architects in mass or as accents in naturalistic, modern, geometric and Mediterranean landscapes. Leaves are valuable additions to cut floral arrangements.

Phormium, New Zealand Flax ‘Yellow Wave’



Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun


Grown for foliage



Foliage Color:



36-48 in. (90-120 cm)


36-48 in. (90-120 cm)


USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual



Bloom Color:


Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Spring/Early Summer

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

Unknown – Tell us

Patent Information:

Unknown – Tell us

Propagation Methods:

By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)

From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:

Bag seedheads to capture ripening seed

Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds

Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds

Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Emerald Lake Hills, California

San Jose, California

San Leandro, California

Woodside, California

Vancouver, Washington

Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’

New Zealand Flax

Evergreen Tender Perennial

Strappy yellow leaves edged in green brighten and enhance any landscape and create an arresting focal point. New Zealand flax is especially effective shown off in a container which has the added benefit of being easier to move to a protected location during winter. Without winter protection, it’s best for Pacific Northwest gardeners to consider it an annual and be pleasantly surprised when it winters over; as it often will do during the mild years. The evergreen foliage is great for cut arrangements.

Growing Conditions

Zone: 8, 9, 10
Water Use: Average, Even Moisture, Regular

Exposure: Full Sun, Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Filtered Sun


Plant Features: Container, Drama / Focal Point, Fabulous Foliage, Focal Point, Foliage, Low Maintenance, Winter Interest, Year-round Interest
Bloom Time: Rarely Blooms

Uses and Applications

Landscape Uses: Beds and Borders, Container, Container Gardens, Mixed Beds, Mixed Border, Small Garden, Specimen, Structure
Special Uses: Container / Window Box, Courtyard / Urban Garden, Drama / Focal Point, Small Gardens
Wildlife: Deer Resistant

More Design Considerations

Seasons of Interest: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Looks Good Year Round, Year-round Interest
Maintenance Level: Low Maintenance
Behavior: Tender

Phormium: New Zealand Flax

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

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

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’.

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