Linum usitatissimum L.

Order: Linales

Family: Linaceae


Linum is Latin for the cultivated Flax.

Other Names:



An erect, many branched, annual to 1 metre tall with slender, alternate leaves and 5 petalled, 20 cm wide blue flowers from October to November. It is used to make linen and linseed oil.



Two. Oval. Tip flat or slightly indented. Edges smooth. Base tapered. Hairless. Surface dull. No petiole.

First leaves:

Opposite in pairs. Oval to spear shaped. Tip pointed. Edges smooth. Base tapered. Hairless. No petiole.


Stipules - Absent or inconspicuous.
Petiole - None.
Blade - Bright to yellow green, parallel sided to narrowly oval, 15-45 mm long x 1-6 mm wide, soft. Acute tip. Hairless.


Erect, hairless, slender, to 1000 mm tall, unbranched or branched near the top. Bark smooth, tough and fibrous.

Flower head:

Loose corymb, many branched cymes at the ends of stems.


Blue or rarely white or pale pink, 20 mm wide. Bisexual.
Ovary - Superior. 5 styles free nearly to the base.
Sepals - 5, egg shaped, 5-9 mm long, keeled near the base, obvious midrib with 2 paler side veins about half as long, pointed tip. Edges membranous and sometimes with tiny hairs.
Petals - 5, blue or rarely white or pale pink, 11-13 mm long, egg shaped, clawed, overlapping.
Stamens -
Anthers - 2 celled, opening by a lengthwise slit.
Nectary glands between petals and stamens.


Almost globular, 5-celled capsule, rounded and thin walled, 5-8 mm long x 7-10 mm wide, longer than the sepals. Tip abruptly pointed. 2 seed per cell, 10 seeds per fruit. Sepals remain attached to the fruit.


Light brown, 4-5 mm long x 3-4 mm wide by 1-2 mm thick, shiny, flattened. Tip round, Edges smooth. Base pointed to round.



Key Characters:

Flowers blue.
Petals 8-13 mm long.
Sepals ovate, acuminate, 5-9 mm long, midrib prominent between lateral nerves about half as long.
Styles free except at the base.
Capsule 7-10 mm across.
From J.R. Wheeler and N.T. Burbidge.


Life cycle:

Annual. Seed is planted in autumn to early winter and the crop grows in winter and spring to be harvested in early summer.


Sensitive to frost at flowering.


By seed.

Flowering times:

Spring to summer in western NSW.
October to November in Perth.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:


There are a number of varieties. Glenelg is the most widely grown and Croxton is more tolerant to Fusarium wilt.
Different cultivars are grown for flax and linseed.


Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spread mainly by intentional planting of seed.

Origin and History:

Unknown, possibly Europe and Asia.



Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium.



Temperate. Mediterranean. Warm Temperate. Subtropical.


Prefers well drained loams.

Plant Associations:



Cultivated for its fibre that is used to make linen and its seeds, from which linseed oil is extracted. Linseed meal used as a high protein supplement for stock.


Weed of roadsides, railways, winter crops, disturbed areas.


Toxic. Linseed cake, young crops, screenings, flowers, seeds and wilted plants can be toxic to stock causing cyanide poisoning due to linmarin. The amounts vary depending on the variety, seasonal conditions and methods used for preparation of oils, meals and cake. It tends to be more toxic in warmer climates. The highest levels are in young plants with very little present by the time plants reach 450 mm tall. Flowers after fertilisation and stems appear to have the greatest concentrations. Most poisoning cases are from feeding the meal and cake or grazing young stands, flowers, seeds and wilted plants.
It affects sheep, cattle horses and pigs.
The pressed cake made after extraction of oil occasionally has high levels of HCN. The toxicity of cake depends on method of oil extraction and preparation of the cake. Cake made by hot pressing is rarely toxic.


HCN toxicity.


Don't allow hungry animals to graze young crops.
Stop feeding or reduce levels of meal and cake in the diet.
Prevent stock grazing linseed.
Affected animals need prompt treatment
Sheep - 1g sodium nitrite and 2g sodium thiosulphate in 15 mL water injected under the skin or into a vein.
 Or 5 mL sulphuric ether under the skin.
 Or 10g sodium thiosulphate (photographic hypo) in 100 mL water given as a drench.
Cattle - 3g sodium nitrite and 15g sodium thiosulphate in 20 mL water injected under the skin or into a vein.
 Or 10 mL sulphuric ether under the skin.
 Or 55g sodium thiosulphate (photographic hypo) in 550 mL water given as a drench.


Management and Control:

Good weed control is required because Linseed is a poor competitor.


Eradication strategies:

Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Sensitive to Fusarium wilt, Pasmo and rust. Varieties like Croxton are tolerant to Fusarium.
Red Legged Earth Mite, Cutworms and Helicoverpa caterpillars are the main pests.

Related plants:

French Flax (Linum trigynum) has smaller, 6 mm, yellow flowers.
Purging Flax (Linum catharticum)
Wild Flax (Linum marginale) is a native species and has united styles.
Yellow Flax (Linum flavum)

Plants of similar appearance:


Auld, B.A. and Medd R.W. (1992). Weeds. An illustrated botanical guide to the weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P182-183. Photo.

Burbidge, N.T. and Gray, M. (1970). Flora of the Australian Capital Territory. (Australian National University Press, Canberra). P238.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P436-437. Photo.

Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney). P511-513.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P172-173. Photo.

Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #750.5.

Marchant et al (1987). Flora of the Perth Region. (Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia). P463.

Moerkerk, M.R. and Barnett, A.G. (1998). More Crop Weeds. R.G. and F.J. Richardson, Melbourne. P104. Diagrams. Photos.

Reid, R.L. (1990) The Manual of Australian Agriculture. (Butterworths, Sydney). P111.


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