How to grow Phormium colensoi 'Tricolour'

Phormium colensoi 'Tricolour' (formally known as Phormium cookianum 'Tricolour') is a popular, evergreen perennial noted for its ornamental foliage. The 'Tricolour' sport (part of a plant that shows morphological differences from the rest of the plant) was discovered in 1888 by William Summers, a gardener on the Brancepeth Estate, one of the largest sheep stations in the history of New Zealand.

How to grow Phormium colensoi 'Tricolour'
The discovery of Phormium colensoi 'Tricolour' was recorded. William Summers found the sport on the steep cliffs of the Wainuioru River, in the Wairarapa area of New Zealand's North Island. However due to its remote and almost inaccessible location William Summers was reluctant to be lowered down the cliff face to collect a division of the sport, however a sailor who was also working at Brancepeth at the time agreed to collect the specimen in his stead. So without the courage of the sailor, whose name was unfortunately not recorded, the 'Tricolour' sport, the subsequent sport 'Cream Delight', nor any of the other hybrids from which these two cultivars have parented would not exist today.

It is a large, clump-forming specimen with sword-like leaves. Each leaf can grow to approximately 1-1.5 metres and is striped yellow and green with a thin red edge. Once established you can expect it to attain a spread of between 1.5-2.5 metres. The blooms are produced on panicles (flower stems) up to 1 metre over the summer, although when grown in northern European gardens the flowers are rarely produced.

The natural habitat of the original species is separated into two distinct geological form. The first is restricted to the lowland regions of the North Island and is easily identified by producing yellow flowers. The second inhabits the mountainous regions of both islands and displays red flowers.

As a garden plant Phormium colensoi 'Tricolour' has proven to be surprisingly adaptable. So long as it is positioned in full sun it will cope well in a wide range of 'ordinary' soil from acid to alkaline, and sand, chalk or clay. It also displays excellent tolerance for maritime conditions and high air pollution.

When growing in northern European gardens it should not be considered fully hardy although it has proven to be hardy enough to survive outside in the south and southwest of England and Ireland. Winter protection will need to be considered when planted further north, just be aware that Phormium colensoi 'Tricolour' can be killed off during unseasonably cold british winters.
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