Plant Fibers Photos 3

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Photos Of Plants Used For Fibers

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Gourd & Agave Families: Cucurbitaceae & Agavaceae

Fiber plants used for wash cloths and bath sponges to remove dirt and excess dead skin cells. A. An Agave wash cloth; B. Vegetable Sponge (Luffa aegyptiaca); C. Vegetable Sponge (L. acutangula). Loofah or vegetable sponges come from the fibrous interior of two species of gourds native to tropical Asia. The common vegetable sponge (Luffa aegyptiaca) has a smooth outer rind, while the fruits of L. acutangula have prominent longitudinal ridges. Although the immature loofah gourds are used for food in the orient, both species are more widely used as natural scouring pads. They have been introduced throughout the world, and common loofah gourds even hang from telephone poles in Honduras. Loofah sponges are recommended for removing dry, dead skin cells from your arms and legs, but it is doubtful that they can really break up cellulite (as some labels state). The unique fibrous material in these gourds is also used for making hats, washing and scouring machinery, and in certain types of filters.

Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa), a Polynesian member of the agave family (Agavaceae). Also known in the Hawaiian Islands as "ki," this important plant with fibrous leaves was carried by early Polynesian sailers on their long voyages to distant islands. The smooth, waxy leaves repel water and were useful as a wrapper for storing and cooking food. In fact, they are still used for this purpose in the Hawaiian Islands today, especially in the famous Hawaiian luau and in buffets. In addition, the leaves were traditionally used for rain capes and sandals, and as thatch for the roofs of houses. Ki was considered sacred to early Hawaiians. The leaves were worn or carried as protection against evil spirits and were an important part of ancient ceremonial rituals.

Pandanus Family: Pandanaceae

Pandanus tectorius, a widespread, dioecious, palm-like tree throughout rocky and sandy shores of Polynesian atolls and islands. This tree belongs to its own monocotyledonous family, the Pandanaceae. Although it is called "screw pine," it is not related to the Pine Family (Pinaceae). Note the conspicuous prop roots at the base of the trunk which support these plants in water-logged soils and strong winds. Pandanus is second only to the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) in importance in Polynesia and Micronesia. The fibrous leaves are used for baskets, floor coverings, mats, and for thatching houses. Ancient Polynesian mariners used the leaves to make sails for their outrigger canoes. Native Hawaiians also used the leaves of pandanus or "hala" to weave their original baskets and mats. This species is sometimes listed as P. odoratissimus, a name derived from the fragrant pollen of male plants.

The multiple fruit of Pandanus tectorius, showing the individual one-seeded sections called "keys." In addition to the edible seeds (one inside each key), the keys are polished and used for necklaces and leis. The keys are very buoyant and water-resistant, and remain viable for months. They are dispersed by ocean currents to shores of distant atolls and islands throughout the tropical Pacific.

A basket made from the interwoven leaves of Pandanus tectorius, a Polynesian native plant in the Pandanus Family (Pandanaceae). Native Hawaiians also used the leaves of pandanus or "hala" to weave their original baskets and mats.

Grass Family: Poaceae

Broom-corn (Sorghum bicolor var. technicum). The stiff, inflorescence branches are made into high quality brooms used in every home. Other varieties of Sorghum, such as millet, are an important cereal grain. In fact, this native African grain ranks fourth after rice, corn, and wheat in terms of importance for human nutrition.

Palm Family: Arecaceae

Thatching From The Bayleaf Palm Of Belize

A thatched roof in Belize made from the leaves of the indigenous bay-leaf palm (Sabal morrisiana)

Close-up view of a thatched roof in Belize (from inside the house). The roof is made from the leaves of the bay-leaf palm (Sabal morrisiana), a native species of thatch palm.

Bay-leaf palm (Sabal morrisiana), a native thatch palm along the New River of Belize in Central America. The strong, durable leaves of this palm are used for roof thatching.

A South African Zulu basket made from the leaves of ilala palm (Hyphaene coriacea). The natural color of the dried palm leaf is cream, and it has a waxy surface making it ideal for water tight baskets. The bark of wild banana or giant strelitzia is torn apart to yield a soft, fine string which alternates with the ilala leaves. Another species of African Hyphaene (H. ventricosa) along the Zambezi River is used as a source of vegetable ivory.

Cyclanthus Family: Cyclanthaceae

The Panama hat palm (Carludovica palmata) is a palmlike plant native to tropical America. Although it resembles members of the palm family (Arecaceae), it belongs to its own family, the Cyclanthaceae. It is obviously closely related to palms. Pliable fibers are obtained from young leaves which are boiled and shredded into strips. The strips are then dried, rolled into cylindrical strands and bleached. Carludovica fibers are hand woven into famous Panama hats in Ecuador. The name "Panama hat" is derived from their shipment through Panama to California during the goldrush of 1849. Hat making is a traditional cottage industry in Ecuador. A unique design is woven into the center of each hat crown signifying the locality of the maker. The finely woven, highest quality hats cost $400 to $2,000 in New York. The above hat photographed in a display case is worth over $30,000. For an interesting article about these extraordinary hats see "The Crown of Montecristi" by Tom Miller, Natural History Volume 109 (5): 54-62, June 2000.

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