Dianella prunina

Flax Lily / Native Flax

Family: Asphodelaceae (subfamily Hemerocallidoideae)

A rhizomatous lily-herb, forming leaves on elevated stems (tufted) with inflorescences to 2 metres tall.

It occurs naturally over a comparatively small area in NSW, from the north-west in Wollemi National Park (north-east of Kandos), extending southwards into Sydney, as far west as Lithgow and Katoomba, with some records at Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands.

It is typically found in sandstone vegetation, in heathland, shrubland and dry sclerophyll woodland and forest.

Dianella spp. produce their leaves on a buried condensed rhizome, with some species exhibiting aerial stems with alternate to clustered leaves.

In this species, leaves are arranged alternately to clustered, on opposite sides of the stem, usually well above the ground, to 90 cm long and 4 cm wide, linear to subulate in shape (“strappy”) and conspicuously blue-grey (glaucous) in colour (a useful identification feature). The bases of leaves are occluded – a feature where the two halves of the upper side of every leaf are folded lengthwise and seemingly glued together – a useful identification feature for this species (especially when it is not in flower).

Dianella spp. produce flowers on elevated inflorescences, usually above the foliage, which are described as cymose but have a panicle-like appearance. The individual flowers are blue to violet and are arranged in branches on the main axis. Flowers are bisexual with six tepals (three sepals and three petals which are almost identical – a typical lily-characteristic) and a superior ovary. In this species, flowers are mid blue to dark violet, to about 20 mm wide, occurring in spring, produced on a tall inflorescence, well above the foliage, the stamens have yellow filaments and brown-yellow to deep blue anthers.

Dianella spp. produce berries, usually purple in colour. In this species, the fruit is fleshy, blue-purple, to 8 mm long.

In the garden

This plant is widely known for its cultivation potential and can be grown successfully. It prefers a well-drained sandy soil. It will likely suffer in poorly drained soil which will lead to root rot.

There is a popular cultivar available: Dianella prunina ‘Utopia’ a grey leaf form which is also naturally dense.

It is a great gap filler and can provide some dense cover for small reptiles and invertebrates. It is virtually drought resistant once established.

Useful for planting in large landscapes, rockeries and shallow soils.

Most plants in this species are fast growing and hardy once establish in well-drained soils in a sunny or semi shaded position.

After flowering and after the berries are finished, remove flower spikes at the base of the plant and at the same time remove any dead or yellowing leaves. Use a suitable native fertiliser for better flower displays.


Propagation can be from the ripe seed sown in spring with good success.

Other information

A benefit of Dianella, along with many other monocotyledonous plants, is they can be transplanted. This is best done in Autumn and Winter. Plants can be dug up and divided along the rhizomes and replanted. It is best to cut back the foliage by two-thirds if doing this and replant, where desired, quickly. The author has found this is the quickest way to establish a sizeable plant. Keep transplanted plants moist for a few weeks.

As mentioned, there is a popular cultivar available: Dianella prunina ‘Utopia’ a blue-grey leaf form which is also naturally dense.

Dianella is a genus of 35-45 species of monocotyledonous flowering plants (which have been subject to family reclassifications in recent times). They are commonly known as Flax Lillies and are closely related to other native genera such as Thelionema and Herpolirion, as well as, more broadly to Xanthorrhoea and Lomandra. They are found from Africa, through south-east Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the wider Pacific to Hawaii. Australia has around 25 species, occurring in all states. The genus has much variation and there are likely more species which require formal descriptions. NSW currently has about 20 taxa – both formal and informal at this stage.

To view the list of Dianella species accepted by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families as at October 2020, use this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dianella_(plant)

Most Dianella plants will survive fire; regenerating quickly from rhizomes as well as any seedbank.

Dianella – Latin diminutive of Diana – the Roman Goddess of the hunt and wild animals, often associated with woodlands. The first specimen of this genus was collected from the island of Mauritius by French botanist-explorer Philibert Commerson (1727-1773) and was simply labelled “Diana”.

prunina – Latin referring to “plum” or “plum-coloured” – presumably referring to the purplish tinge of the foliage or the appearance of the berries.

Most Dianella plants will survive fire; regenerating quickly from rhizomes as well as any seedbank.

Plants of South-Eastern NSW – Dianella prunina profile page

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Dianella prunina profile page      https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Dianella~prunina

Gardening with Angus – Dianella prunina ‘Utopia’ profile page

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.