New Zealand flax is actually a member of the lily family (although parts of the plant can be used for making fiber, like European flax). Flax has extremely long, sword-shaped, stiff leaves. These leaves grow in a fan shape, and one plant growing from one root system can send out 8, 12, or even more fans.
In the spring, the flowers of the flax are an important source of nectar for birds, as they are too deep for bees. In fact, the flowers of the flax plant curve at the same angle as the beaks of the tui birds! In the summer, the flax sets its seeds, which are also an important food source for birds. It's also a great shelter for birds, snails, and other insects. (Remember, NZ does not have native land mammals, so birds are an extremely important part of the ecosystem here.) Flax roots do a great job of penetrating very hard soils full of clay; their roots also do a great job stabilizing erosion-prone soil.
Flax has been used for many purposes by traditional Maori society. Known as harakeke in Maori, flax fiber has been used to make clothing, ropes, canoe lashings--even baby rattles! Nearly every part of the flax plant also has medicinal uses. The leaves and flower stalks are used to stabilize and treat broken bones and other wounds. A juice made from flax root is also a great disinfectant.