Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Cotton, a soft, fluffy staple fibre that grows in a protective capsule around seeds of plants of the genus Gossypium, is converted into the world’s most widely used natural-fibre cloth. But its pre-eminent position may soon be challenged by pineapple-derived fabric if Jamil Salleh [Associate Professor and textile technologist at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Malaysia] is successful. Salleh’s project aims to assess techniques to extract the long fibres of the leaves of pineapple (Ananas comosus), which have been woven into fabric in south-east Asia for many years. Although demand for pineapple fibres is unlikely to rival the demand for cotton fibres, this initiative could be a profitable way of dealing with leaves left over after the pineapples have been harvested, and is arguably a more environmentally responsible use than simply burning them. So, in a new twist on an old adage, this could be a case of riches from ‘rags’ (for so the ill-informed describe couture clothing). However, let us hope that any resurgence in demand for bromeliad-based fabrics does not threaten the providing species with extinction, as seems to be a serious concern for other economically important plants elsewhere in the Pacific . 

Written by Nigel Chaffey

Nigel is a botanist and was a full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK) until 31st July, 2019. As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ (until March 2019). He remains a botanist and is now a freelance plant science communicator who continues to share his Cuttingsesque items with a plant-curious audience. In that guise his main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

  • Banana and flax are both multi-purpose crops as well. Banana leaves are used extensively as disposable plates in Asia, and for roofing throughout the tropics. Banana fibres – either from the edible species, or more often from the close relative Musa textilis grown specifically for the fibre – are known as Manila or abaca or cohu hemp. Manila paper, as in the eponymous envelopes, and ropes were originally the major use. Now the special qualities of the fibre – durability, flexibility and chemical or salt resistance – mean the fibre is restricted to very high value uses such as Japanese banknotes, tea-bags and filter papers. I have a pair of abaca trousers, bought in England, and shirts are also available, although unfortunately I have only seen them on sale in a rather fetching shade of pink!

  • Image: Luc Viatour, Wikimedia Commons.

    Bark II

    Image: Micael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons.

    Bark I