UNITED STATES—”Mediterranean” translates from Latin to “middle of land.” The Mediterranean Sea is in the middle of the land of those who named it. Other regions were either unimportant or unknown to them until the Sixteenth Century. Nowadays, most people of the World are aware of many other regions. A few of such regions also enjoy a Mediterranean climate.

Such climates are obviously not confined to the regions of the Mediterranean Sea. They merely resemble such climates. Some extend eastward into Western Asia. Others are in eastern and southern Africa, southwestern South America and Columbia. Also, larger regions of such climate are in southern Australia. The closest are here in western North America.

Even these limiting regional destinations are debatable. Many horticulturists consider climates of New Zealand to be typical Mediterranean. Such climates are mostly between 30 and 45 degrees north and south. However, some might exist within northern India and southern China. Ultimately, climate is meteorological rather than geographical.

Species from similar climates adapt easier than species from different climates.

Mediterranean climates receive almost all of their rain during winter. Rain is very minimal through summer. Even if it is twice as abundant in other similar climates, it conforms to a similar schedule. Although winter chill is adequate for many species that need it, frost is mostly minor. Locally, summer weather does not often become too uncomfortably warm.

Native species know what to expect from local climate. So do exotic species from similar climates. Some may prefer more or less winter rain, summer heat or winter chill. Almost all can tolerate warm summers without rain, though. Such weather conditions are normal for them. Therefore, the most adaptable exotic species locally are from similar climates.

This includes species of Eucalyptus, Pittosporum and Callistemon from Australia. Aloe, Agapanthus and Morea are from South Africa. Phormium and Leptospermum are from New Zealand. Oleander and the various species of Lavandula are truly Mediterranean. In the past, a few exotic species adapted too efficiently to become invasively naturalized. Horticulturists are now careful to not import such potentially aggressive species.

Highlight: New Zealand Flax

Old fashioned New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, is becoming increasingly uncommon. It is simply too big for compact modern gardens. Even without upright stems, its vertical and olive drab leaves can reach ten feet tall. They can flare outwardly as wide as 15 feet. One cultivar is bronzed. Another is variegated. Both are somewhat more compact.

Most modern cultivars are either Phormium colensoi or hybrids of the two species. They are more compact and more colorful. ‘Jack Spratt’ grows only about a foot and a half tall, with chocolaty bronze foliage. ‘Yellow Wave’ gets about three or four feet tall with arching foliage with yellow stripes. Others are bronzed or striped with yellow, brown, red or pink.

New Zealand flax is remarkably resilient. The evergreen foliage is so very fibrous that it can be difficult to cut. Tough rhizomes that migrate where they are not desirable propagate easily by division. Some cultivars can revert by generating less colorful mutant growth. Since it is greener, such growth is more vigorous. It can overwhelm and displace more colorful foliage.

Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.com.