Plant Cuttings


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 . 


  1. 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!

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