Agronomic studies of fiber plants

Material Information

Agronomic studies of fiber plants jute, sisal, henequen, furcraea, hemp and other miscellaneous types
Seale, Charles C.
Joyner, J. F ( J. Frank )
Pate, J. B ( James Bruce ), 1922-
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla
University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
27 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Fiber plants ( lcsh )
Fiber plants -- Field experiments ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (p. 24-27).
General Note:
Florida Agricultural Experiment Station bulletin 590
Statement of Responsibility:
C.C. Seale, J.F. Joyner and J.B. Pate.

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
AEN7504 ( LTUF )
18283784 ( OCLC )
027106210 ( AlephBibNum )


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Full Text

September 1957

J. R. BECKENBACH, Director

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

Jute, Sisal, Henequen, Furcraea, Hemp and Other
Miscellaneous Types


Fig. 1.-Various fiber plant introductions in the nursery of the Everglades
Experiment Station.

SBulletin 590


J UTE ............. ........... .. .. .. ...... ...................... ........ .... ... .......... 3
SISAL HEN----------U ---N ----AND -------FUR---------A----A-------------------------------------------83
SISAL, HENEQUEN AND FURCRAEA ..................-.....-- --...-..............----- 8

H EM P ............................................................ ................ .................. 12

MISCELLANEOUS FIBER PLANTS ......................... - ............. ...--.....-- ... 15

Abroma augusta --......................---.-......---.......-----------....... 15

Crotalaria juncea .........---..-..... ........................................ 16

Fiber Flax ............-- ---------- ---..... ...-........... -......--.......- 17

A baca ............... ........................................................................... 18
Abaca--------- ---------- ------------------------------------------------------------12
Phormium tenax .................................... ... 20

U rena lobata .. ............. ... .................. ... .......... ....................... 22

SUM M ARY ............................................................................ ............ .... 23

LITERATURE CITED ................. ................... ........ ..... .................. ........ 24

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

Jute, Sisal, Henequen, Furcraea, Hemp and Other
Miscellaneous Types'
C. C. SEALE, J. F. JOYNER and J. B. PATE '

Agronomic work on fiber plants at the Everglades Experiment
Station is being carried out cooperatively by the U. S. Depart-
ment of Agriculture and the University of Florida Agricultural
Experiment Station, and is concerned mainly with ramie, kenaf
and sansevieria. From time to time, however, seed or planting
stock of other plants have been obtained from foreign areas
through the Plant Introduction Section of the U. S. Department
of Agriculture and other sources. These plants are first placed
in preliminary observational trials, and at a later stage, any
that appear promising are tested further.
This paper presents results of tests with several fiber plants
that have been obtained during recent years. None of these
plants have been grown commercially in Florida for the pro-
duction of fiber.
Jute is a fiber plant that grows best in the humid regions of
the tropics and subtropics (24, 28, 44).3 The crop is grown most
extensively in the northeastern part of India and East Pakistan,
and in those areas it is very important in the economic life of
a large number of the people (24, 27). Jute fiber is used mainly
in the manufacture of burlap bags, coarse fabrics and twine
(24, 25, 28, 44).
Since the area of production was relatively restricted, many
attempts have been made during the past 10 to 15 years to pro-
duce jute or other substitute plants, such as kenaf, Hibiscus
cannabinus L., and urena, Urena lobata L., in many tropical and
subtropical areas in the Western Hemisphere, Africa and Asia
(6, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15, 16, 24, 30, 36, 37, 45, 46, 48).
Jute is an annual which, according to Vavilov (51), has its
center of origin in India. It is a member of the family Tiliaceae
SThe research work on which this report is based was conducted co-
operatively by the University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station,
the Crops Research Division and the Agricultural Engineering Research
Division, ARS, U. S. Department of Agriculture.
2Associate Agronomist, Everglades Experiment Station and Research
Agronomists, Crops Research Division, ARS, USDA, respectively, Belle
Glade, Florida.
3 Figures in italics refer to Literature Cited.

4 Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

and the genus Corchorus, of which two principal species, C. cap-
sularis L. and C. olitorius L., are cultivated for fiber.


Ai e,

Fig. 2.-Corchorus capsularis P. I. 187292 in jute variety experiment
on Everglades peat 94 days after being planted.

These two species are fairly easily distinguished by several
characteristics. The fruiting pods of C. capsularis are round and
capsular, the seeds are copper-brown and the leaves are light
green with a hard texture and bitter flavor. The fruiting pods

2, i
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I r J~
rk+hrJ r

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

of C. olitorius are elongated and cylindrical, the seeds are blue-
green and the leaves are dark green with a fleshy texture and
without a bitter flavor. According to Low (27), C. capsularis
grows equally well on high or low ground and withstands flood-
ing, drought, and attack by insects and diseases better than
C. olitorius.


tp (1.
Fig. 3.-Mature seed pods of long pod jute, C. olitorius (left), and round
pod jute, C. capsularis (right).
In India and Pakistan the seed is generally sown broadcast
at the rate of 5 to 10 pounds per acre on suitably prepared land
from February through May. Experiments have shown, how-

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

ever, that line sowing gives a more uniform stand and a better
yield of fiber (27, 28, 47). Seeding rates for C. capsularis are
generally higher than for C. olitorius (44, 47). The jute plant
is very sensitive to day length (17, 18). In India when the daily
light period is 121/2 hours or less, early flowering is induced and
vegetative growth is reduced (18). The crop is generally har-
vested about 100 days after planting from June through early
October (27, 28). Average yield of jute fiber in India has been
estimated at about 1,200 pounds per acre (24, 44).
In India and Pakistan the fiber is extracted by the biological
process of water retting. This is done by tying the stalks in
bundles and immersing them in pools or rivers from 12 to 25
days (27, 28, 33). After retting, the fiber is stripped by hand,
washed and dried. In other countries where production costs
are higher, other methods of extracting the fiber have been tried
experimentally (5, 50).
The fiber of jute is located in the bast and is laid down in
successive layers; the outer layer is referred to as primary fiber
and the successive inner layers as secondary fiber (2).
The quality of jute fiber is affected mainly by the method of
retting or extraction, and is influenced to a lesser extent by
climatic and soil conditions, variety, cultural practices, diseases
and pests (3, 26, 35).

In 1952 four varieties of C. capsularis and one variety of C.
olitorius, which had been introduced from India, were tested for
yield and quality of fiber in a variety experiment on Everglades
peat. The design of the experiment was in randomized blocks
with four replications. Plots were 163.4 square feet in area.
Immediately prior to planting, 500 pounds per acre of an 0-8-16
fertilizer with the minor elements copper, manganese, zinc and
boron were applied to all plots. Varieties were planted on July
3, 1952. Seed was sown at the rate of 10 pounds per acre with
a mechanical planter in rows 7 inches apart.
Plots were harvested for green yield on October 5, 1952. At
that time, 10-stalk samples were taken from each plot for fiber
content and yield determinations. These samples were ribboned
by hand, and the fiber was extracted by water retting in earthen-
ware crocks for 12 to 15 days. The percentage and yield of fiber
were calculated from the dry weight of the fiber samples ob-
tained after retting. Fiber quality tests for tensile strength,

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

knot strength, abrasion resistance and flexual endurance (more
commonly called strength, shear, wear and flex, respectively)
were determined by the methods of Scheifer (49) and Berkeley
(4) in the fiber laboratory at the Everglades Experiment Station.

The plant height, percent fiber, and yields of green material
and fiber of the jute varieties are presented in Table 1. These
data were analyzed statistically and the results showed that
differences between varieties were significant for plant height
and were highly significant for percent fiber and yields of green
material and fiber.


SPlant Yields,
Variety Height Percent Pounds per Acre
Inches Fiber*
I Green Fiber

1. C. capsularis P.I. 167092 .... 92 3.33 32,825 1,095
2. C. capsularis P.I. 170313 .... 85 2.45 30,025 747
3. C. capsularis P.I. 170315 .... 89 3.42 34,848 1,207
4. C. capsularis P.I. 187292 .... 89 3.39 36,092 1,220
5. C. olitorius P.I. 167091 .... 86 2.55 125,825 660

LSD 5% ..... ................ I 4 .42 4,384 202
LSD 1% ............... ...... ... N.S. .60 6,146 284

*Percent dry fiber on a green weight basis.

C. capsularis P.I. 167092 produced the tallest plants and C.
capsularis P.I. 170313 the shortest plants in this test. C. cap-
sularis P.I. 170315 had the highest fiber content, while C. cap-
sularis P.I. 170313 had the lowest fiber content. C. capsularis
P.I. 187292 produced the highest yields of green material and
fiber, while C. olitorius P.I. 167091 produced the lowest yields
of green material and fiber.
Based on single degree of freedom comparisons, the four va-
rieties of C. capsularis in this experiment were significantly
higher in fiber content and yield than the variety of C. olitorius.
Among the four C. capsularis varieties, P.I. 170313 gave much
poorer results than the others.
Results of the fiber quality tests are presented in Table 2.
Differences between varieties of jute were not significant for

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

tensile strength and shear, but were significant for flex and were
highly significant for wear.


1000's Lbs./Sq. Inch Cycles to Failure
Tensile Shear Wear Flex
Strength SS*

1. C. capsularis P.I. 167092 .... 30.6 13.7 175 1.807
2. C. capsularis P.I. 170313 .... 29.9 12.8 193 1,215
3. C. capsularis P.I. 170315 .... 29.0 13.4 143 1,198
4. C. capsularis P.I. 187292 .... 25.8 13.6 168 1,601
5. C. olitorius P.I. 167091 .... 25.1 14.1 358 939

LSD 5% ....... ....... ........ N.S. N.S. 98 547
LSD 1% ............................ I .......... 137 N .S.

*Breaks made with fiber bundles in an SS twist.

C. olitorius P.I. 167091 had the lowest flex but the highest
wear value, while C. capsularis P.I. 167092 had the highest flex
and C. capsularis P.I. 170315 the lowest wear value.
By single degree of freedom comparisons, the four varieties
of C. capsularis were significantly higher in flex than the C.
olitorius variety, while the reverse was true in the case of wear.

A coarse, long, hard fiber is obtained from the leaves of sisal,
henequen and furcraea. Sisal, Agave sisalana Perrine, is indig-
enous to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, but has been intro-
duced and grown successfully in many tropical and subtropical
areas (11, 53). Sisal was introduced from Mexico to Florida
in 1834 and became naturalized in certain areas of the mainland
and keys of South Florida (11). Yields of sisal under good
growing conditions average about 1,000 pounds per acre of first
quality fiber (42). Sisal fiber has wide uses in the manufacture
of tying twines, binder twines, ropes and cords. However, sisal
rope is inferior to abaca for marine cordage.
Sisal rarely produces seed and is propagated asexually by
bulbils which are formed on the flowering stalk or pole after
the blossoms drop and also by suckers which grow around the
base of the plant. During 1885-90 bulbils produced on plants
which had escaped to the wild in South Florida were collected
and exported by commercial nurserymen to sisal growing coun-

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

tries, including East Africa, Java and Sumatra (11). Practically
all the sisal grown outside of Mexico can be traced to these
plants sent from Florida (11). At present some nurserymen
in South Florida are still engaged in the export of sisal bulbils.

Fig. 4.-Agave species in a hard fiber variety experiment immediately
prior to harvest. Sisal, A. sisalana P. I. 236425 (left) and henequen, A.
fourcroydes P. I. 182788 (right).

Robinson (42) states that poling in sisal depends on climatic
and soil conditions. He reports poling in a plantation in Papua
as early as three years, while in Puerto Rico plants may be
10 to 11 years old before poling. Observations have shown that
sisal which was planted from suckers one foot in height poled
in 3 to 4 years on Everglades peat in South Florida.
Henequen, Agave fourcroydes Lemaire, is also a native of
Mexico. It is grown on a commercial scale in that country, and
to a lesser extent in Cuba (11). Yields in Cuba are about 1,500
pounds per acre per year (42). The presence of prickly thorns
on the margins of the leaves of henequen is a definite disadvant-
age, as compared with the nearly smooth edges of the sisal leaf.
The fiber from henequen is weaker than sisal, and consequently
is used chiefly for binder and baler twine (42). Henequen re-
produces sexually by seed and asexually by bulbils and suckers.
Propagation in commercial fiber plantations is by either bulbils
or suckers (11).

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

The furcraeas are indigenous to the tropics of the Western
Hemisphere but are not cultivated extensively (53). Furcraea
gigantea Vent. is grown commercially in Mauritius, Brazil, Vene-
zuela and Madagascar, while Furcraea cabuya Trel. is grown
in Costa Rica and Panama (53, 54). The fiber of these two
species is similar to sisal in appearance, but is somewhat weaker.
It is used for bags and cordage in the countries where grown.

In February 1952, a hard fiber variety experiment was planted
on Immokalee fine sand near Lake Worth, Florida. Included
in this test were two varieties of sisal, one variety of henequen
and two species of furcraea. The design was a randomized
block with four replications. Plots consisted of three plants
of each variety in an area of 216 square feet.
Sucker plants one foot in height were used as planting stock.
Fertilization consisted of 1,000 pounds of 12-4-8 per acre per
year applied in the spring of 1952 and 1953. In 1954 and 1955,
split applications of this amount were made, one-half in the
spring and one-half in the fall.
The first harvest was made in October 1955, 44 months after
planting. Leaves making an angle of 60 degrees or less with
the ground line were cut by hand, and those from each plant

Fig. 5.-Furcraea species in hard fiber variety experiment immediately prior
to harvest. F. cabuya P. I. 182789 (left) and F. g,gantea (right).

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants


Number Length Yields,
Variety Leaves of Leaf, Percent Pounds per Acre
per Plant Inches Fiber*
Green Fiber

A. sisalana
P.I. 236425, Haiti.. 48 43 3.00 37,787 1,124

A. sisalana, Florida.. 48 39 3.01 30,653 874

A. fourcroydes
P.I. 182788,
Mexico ............. 44 44 3.18 44,089 1,405

F. gigantea, Florida 30 41 2.57 20,948 546

F. cabuya
P.I. 182789,
Costa Rica ......... 33 54 1.85 26,116 476

LSD 5% ........... 6 7 .44 14,235 386
LSD 1% .......... 9 10 .61 N.S. 541

Percent dry fiber on a green weight basis.


1000's Lbs./Sq. Inch I Cycles to Failure
Variety I
Variety Tensile Shear Wear SS* Flex

A. sisalana P.I. 236425,
Haiti ..............-.. ... 47.9 17.2 892 1,124

A. sisalana, Florida ........ 46.8 16.8 1,114 1,406

A. fourcroydes
P.I. 182788, Mexico .... 34.9 15.3 1,642 2,918

F. gigantea, Florida ...... 37.1 13.1 935 811

F. cabuya P.I. 182789,
Costa Rica .............. 32.6 12.4 1,307 1,523

LSD 5% .................. 3.7 1.5 431 833
LSD 1% ................. 5.2 2.1 N.S. 1,169

Breaks made with fiber bundles in an SS twist.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

weighed and handled separately. Leaves harvested per plant
were counted, and an average length of leaf taken. The leaves
were crushed in squeeze rolls and the fiber was extracted on a
large corona type raspador decorticator. The fiber was washed
and then dried to constant weight in an oven. Fiber percentages
and acre yields were based on these dry fiber weights. Fiber
quality measurements of strength, shear, wear and flex were
made in the fiber laboratory at the Everglades Experiment Sta-
tion (4, 49).
Number and length of leaves, percent fiber, and yields of green
material and fiber for the five varieties are presented in Table 3.
Differences between varieties were highly significant for all
factors measured except green yield, which were significant.
Sisal and henequen had a larger number of leaves than the
furcraeas, but the leaves of the Costa Rican furcraea were con-
siderably longer than those of the other four varieties. In terms
of percent fiber, sisal and henequen were similar, but both were
superior to furcraea. Henequen gave best yields of green ma-
terial and dry fiber, being much superior to furcraea and some-
what better than sisal.
Fiber quality measurements are presented in Table 4. Differ-
ences in tensile strength, shear and flex were highly significant,
while differences in wear were significant. Sisal was superior
to henequen and furcraea in tensile strength and shear. How-
ever, henequen gave the highest wear and flex readings. Quality
results on sisal and henequen agree with the findings of Robin-
son (42), who has reported that the tensile strength and shear
of sisal are better than those of henequen, but the latter is
superior to sisal in wear and flex.

Hemp, Cannabis sativa L., is a bast fiber plant of the family
Moraceae. It is an annual plant that is propagated from seed,
and can be rapidly brought into production (40).
Dioecious varieties of hemp have been generally cultivated,
but owing to differences in maturation of male and female plants,
considerable variation in yield and quality of fiber occurs (40).
In recent years monoecious varieties have been developed (13).
The following seeding rates have been recommended: (a) for
fiber production, 33 to 35 pounds per acre, either broadcast or

Fig. 6.-Hemp planted for seed February 8, 1955, on Immokalee fine
sand. Plants in full flower exhibiting a type of growth adaptable to
mechanical harvesting about 70 days after planting.

drilled in rows 4 to 6 inches apart; (b) for seed production, 11/2
pounds per acre planted in hills spaced 5 feet apart (40).
The hemp plant contains the drug marijuana and cannot be
grown without a permit from the Internal Revenue Service of
the U. S. Treasury (40).
Hemp is harvested for fiber when the male plants are in full
bloom, and for seed when the middle branches of the female
plants are fully mature. The plant usually attains a height of
5 to 8 feet when sown thickly for fiber (40).
In Wisconsin and Kentucky, average total fiber yield of 850
pounds per acre have been reported. In the same area seed yields
of about 500 to 600 pounds per acre have been obtained (40).
Hemp was designated a strategic crop during World War II
when imports of abaca, sisal and jute from the Philippines,
Netherlands East Indies, India and Africa were either cut off
or jeopardized by submarine warfare (40, 52).

Fig. 7.-Hemp planted for seed April 8, 1955, on Immokalee fine sand.
Plants in a vegetative state of growth about 90 days after planting.

I.*,. ',- ..

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

The annual U. S. acreage of hemp was expanded from about
3,000 acres in 1939-41 to about 146,000 acres in 1943 (52). The
area of production was centered largely in Wisconsin, Illinois,
Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, and Kentucky (22, 52). The acreage
decreased to about 62,000 acres in 1944, and very little hemp has
been grown for fiber in the United States since the end of World
War II (22).
The production of high quality hemp seed has been a problem.
The germination rate of some lots of seed produced in Kentucky
in 1942 was low owing to harvesting of immature crops and
adverse weather conditions (41). South Florida, with its favor-
able weather conditions and short day lengths in the fall and
early spring, seemed to offer possibilities for the production of
high quality hemp seed from plants suitable for mechanical
Hemp seed production was studied in date-of-planting experi-
ments on Everglades peat near Belle Glade and on Immokalee
fine sand near Lake Worth.
Plantings were made on Everglades peat each month during
the period May through August 1951 in a randomized block
experiment in plots consisting of three rows 10 feet long spaced
1 foot apart. An experimental monoecious variety of hemp was
seeded at a rate of 8 pounds per acre. Plant height measure-
ments were made when the seed crop was ripe. Seed samples
were taken for germination tests, but no seed yields were ob-
Plantings were made on Immokalee fine sand every two months
during the period July 1954 through January 1956 in a random-
ized block experiment in plots consisting of four rows 20 feet
long spaced 3 feet apart. The same variety of monoecious hemp
was seeded at a rate of 8 pounds per acre. Plant height measure-
ments and seed yields were taken when the seed crop was ripe.

On Everglades peat, best vegetative growth was obtained in
the May planting which grew to a mean height of 83 inches.
Few seed were produced in this planting, and the plants were
very branched. Vegetative growth was progressively reduced
in the June, July and August plantings to 69, 46 and 38 inches,
respectively, and poor seed set was obtained in all these plant-

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

ings. The quality of all the seed produced was very poor, with
germination ranging from 10 to 15 percent.
Average height and seed yields on Immokalee fine sand are
presented in Table 5. Hemp is very sensitive to a high water
table, and several plantings were destroyed during the rainy
season. The striking response of hemp to day length can be
seen. Seed yields in the January planting were fair. The Feb-
ruary planting gave the highest seed yield of all the planting
dates. The April planting grew well vegetatively but was
killed by excessive water before flowering. Growth in the June
and September plantings was shortened by rains, but fair seed
yields were obtained. Growth in the December plantings was
reduced by the short day lengths and seed yields were low. The
quality of seed produced on these sandy soils was good. Germi-
nation tests run on various lots of seed from this experiment
averaged 90 percent.

Planting Date at Harvest, Seed Yield,
_Inches Pounds per Acre
January 8, 1956 ........................... 34 395
February 8, 1955 ..-....................... 44 981
A pril 8, 1955 ................................... 84 0*
June 8, 1954 .................................... 37 304
September 8, 1955 ......................... 22 459
December 8, 1954 .............................. 30 88

*Plants killed by excessive rains prior to flowering.

Abroma augusta L. is a perennial plant propagated from seed
and belongs to the family Sterculiaceae. The plant is indigenous
to India but is found growing wild in Southeastern Asia and
Africa (23).
The crop has not been grown on a large plantation scale and
much of the fiber has been obtained from harvesting wild stands.
Experimental work has been carried out on the crop in Uganda,
British East Africa. Seed may be sown directly in the field
or in seedbeds and the young plants transplanted to the field
when about 1 foot high. A plant population of 7,000 to 8,000
plants per acre has given satisfactory results (23).

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Plants are ready for harvest at the onset of flowering, which
occurrs about 110 days after planting. The fiber content of
defoliated stalks varies from 4 to 8 percent. A fiber yield of
about 2,500 pounds per acre from two to three cuttings per year
has been reported from experimental plantings in the Belgian
Congo. However, much lower yields have been obtained from
the exploitation of wild stands. After harvest, the fiber, which is
located in the bast, is generally extracted by water retting (23).
In countries where the plant occurs naturally, the fiber is used
by the natives for making cordage, thread and fish nets. The
fiber resembles kenaf in general appearance, but is weaker. It
could perhaps be used for the same purpose as kenaf or jute
fiber (23).
A variety of A. augusta P.I. 236424 introduced from the
Philippines in 1953 was observed in plantings in the greenhouse
and in the field on Everglades peat and Immokalee fine sand.
The plants made poor growth, did not produce seed and appears
unsuited to the climatic and soil conditions in South Florida.

Sunn hemp, Crotalaria juncea L., is one of the most commonly
cultivated fiber plants in India, ranking next in importance to
cotton and jute. The plant is also grown to a limited extent in
other tropical countries (1, 21, 24, 32), and is widely used as a
cover and green manuring crop (21, 32).

Fig. 8.-A planting of sunn hemp, Crotalaria juncea P. I. 236437, made
in August 1956 on Everglades peat, showing good growth and heavy flower-
ing about 90 days after seeding.

sAte^ J *sMk
Lh. f, '^11 (B"WE -^t !, j~jShut

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

The plant, an annual that is propagated by seed, is a member
of the Leguminosae family. It is a tall, upright plant that at-
tains a height of 4 to 10 feet when mature. Several varieties
of sunn hemp are cultivated for fiber in India (9).
The plant can be grown successfully over a wide range of
soil types. However, since waterlogging is harmful, best results
are generally obtained on light, well drained soils (32).
The seed is broadcast at the rate of about 60 pounds per acre.
This rate of seeding prevents branching and produces a good
type of fiber plant. For best yield and quality of fiber, the crop
is generally planted in June and harvested about 3 to 31/ months
later at the pod-forming stage (32).
The extraction of the fiber, which is located in the bast, is
carried out by water retting. The fiber is used to manufacture
a wide variety of products, such as twines, matting, sacking,
wrapping and cigarette paper. It is lighter in color, and has
more tensile strength and durability under exposure than
jute (9, 32).
Two varieties of C. juncea, P.I. 167897 and F. C. 31758, planted
in experimental plots on Everglades peat near Belle Glade in
June 1949 made satisfactory growth. The plant height and
fiber content of the two varieties 110 days after planting were
6 and 71/ feet and 4.81 and 2.56 percent fiber of total green
weight, respectively. A variety of C. juncea, P.I. 236437, planted
on Everglades peat in August 1956 grew well. The plants at-
tained a height of 6 feet and had a fiber content of 2.50 percent
of total green weight at time of harvest.
Experimental plantings of C. juncea P.I. 176842 and P.I.
180036-40 on Immokalee fine sand near Lake Worth in July 1952
made good growth. However, the fruiting pods were severely
attacked by two lepidopterous insects-lima pod borer, Etiella
zinckenella (Treit.), and bella moth, Utethesia bella (L.)-and
little or no seed was produced. The plantings of C. juncea on
Everglades peat were not attacked by these insects.
Fiber flax, Linum usitatissimum L., is an annual plant of the
family Linaceae that yields a fine textile fiber. The crop has
been cultivated in the United States mainly in Michigan and
Oregon (38).
The plant may be grown under a fairly wide range of condi-
tions, but best results have been obtained in areas with a cool,
moist climate and a rich, medium-heavy loam soil. Very poor

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

plant growth and fiber yields have been obtained under prolonged
conditions of drought or where temperatures remain above 750
F. during the growing period (38).
Flax is drilled at the rate of 90 pounds per acre. For best
results in yield and quality of fiber and seed, the crop is generally
ready for harvest during the yellow-ripe stage. Flax is pulled
by machine, retted and converted to line fiber by a scutching
process (38, 39). The line fiber is spun into textiles, and the
tow fiber is used for making rugs, inexpensive cloth and marine
Under favorable conditions of growth, an average yield of
about 3,000 pounds of unthreshed straw can be expected, from
which about 300 pounds of line fiber is obtained (39).
The Cascade variety of fiber flax obtained from the Wisconsin
Agricultural Experiment Station was planted on Everglades
peat soil in June 1949. Although germination was good, growth
was very poor and most of the plants died before harvest. Re-
sults indicate that this variety of fiber flax is not adapted to
prevailing conditions in South Florida.
Abaca, Musa textilis Nee, is a tropical plant that yields a high
grade cordage fiber. A member of the family Musaceae, it
closely resembles the banana plant which is also a member of
this family. However, the stalks of abaca are more slender and
the leaves are smaller, narrower and more pointed and erect
than those of the banana. Furthermore, abaca has a pronounced
dark line on the right hand undersurface of the leaf, which
can be used as a further aid in distinguishing it from the banana
(11, 43).
The plant is a native of the Philippines and has been grown
extensively on the southern part of the islands of Luzon and
Mindanao. Attempts to introduce abaca to other Asian coun-
tries so far have not been successful, except in Indonesia and
British North Borneo (34). Experimental field plantings were
established in Panama in 1928 and more recently in other areas
in the Western Hemisphere, where it has produced good yields
of high quality fiber. Abaca requires a humid tropical climate
with little extremes of temperature and a fertile, well-drained
soil. It will not tolerate high winds, swampy conditions or
drought (31, 43).
Abaca is propagated commercially by suckers or by division
of the bulbous base of the plant. The plants are generally spaced

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

8 to 10 feet each way in rows. About two years after planting,
the clump consists of stalks in various stages of development,
the oldest of which should be ready for cutting when the flag
leaf appears. When mature, plants may attain a height of 10
to 20 feet. Plantings reach full maturity and produce maximum
yields in three to five years. Yields tend to decline after seven
to eight years and replanting is often necessary after 12 to 15

Fig. 9.-A clone of abaca, Musa textilis P. I. 223564. Growth from one
sucker about 9 months after planting on Immokalee fine sand.

Stalks are generally cut by hand and the fiber is removed by
hand stripping, by Hagotan stripping or by mechanical decorti-
cation. Fiber recovered from the leaf sheaths or pseudo-stems
ranges from 1 to 2 percent of total green weight for hand and

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Hagotan stripping and 21/2 to 4 percent for mechanical decorti-
cation (34). Yield of dry fiber varies from 1/2 to 2 tons per acre,
depending on variety and environmental conditions (43).
Vegetative material of four clones of M. textilis P.I. 223563-66
were planted in the field on Immokalee fine sand near Lake
Worth in March 1956. Most of the plants made fair growth
and one year after planting, height ranged from 20 to 40 inches
and number of suckers from one to six.

Fig. 10.-A variety of Phormium tenax showing good growth made
during the cooler months of 1956-57. Photographed in February 1957,
about 11 months after planting.

Phormium tenax Forst., a perennial fiber plant of the family
Liliaceae, is a native of New Zealand where it is mainly grown.
Small acreages are also cultivated in Brazil, Argentine, Chile,
the Azores, St. Helena, South Africa and Japan. Attempts

*CI?; -l...r

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

have been made on different occasions to grow the plant experi-
mentally in the United States, but no industry has resulted.
Phormium is best adapted to a mild, temperate climate with
high humidity. In its natural habitat it grows well over a wide
variety of soils, including coastal areas, marshy lands and slop-
ing uplands (11, 29, 46).
The plant can be propagated by seed or by division of the
root system. Planting with seed is less desirable because growth
is slower and variation in plant type occurs. Planting can be
done in the spring or fall, but early fall planting produces best
results. Spacing of plants is generally 4 x 6 feet or more in
rows (11, 46).
In New Zealand plants are ready for harvest about four years
after planting, when the entire stand is cut. The regrowth can
be harvested at intervals of four years or more (11).
The plant attains a height of 5 to 13 feet. The leaves grow
in fan-like clusters, are sword-shaped, 2 to 4 inches in width,
erect in some varieties and bent over in others. The fiber con-
tent of the leaf varies from 5 to 24 percent, but is generally
above 10 percent in varieties grown commercially for fiber. It
should be noted that phormium contains a higher percentage
of fiber than other commercial fiber plants (11, 29).
An average yield of 4,000 to 8,000 pounds of dry fiber per
acre can be expected at each four-year harvest. The fiber is
extracted mechanically and is used mainly in the manufacture of
cordage, twines and industrial textiles, such as wool packs, bags
and woven carpets. Cordage made of phormium does not retain
its strength when wet as well as that of abaca (11, 46).
Seed of six varieties of P. tenax P.I. 183273-78 obtained from
New Zealand in August 1949 were planted in the greenhouse.
The germination of the seed was poor. The seedlings were set
in the field on Everglades peat about five or six weeks later.
The plants made very little growth and died before the end of
the year.
Plants of P. tenax brought in from California and Oregon in
1948 and 1952 were planted on Everglades peat, Davie fine sand
and Immokalee fine sand. Growth at all three locations in both
years was poor and all the plants eventually died.
Three clones of P. tenax obtained from the Phormium Im-
provement Program in Oregon in March 1956 were planted on
Immokalee fine sand. Two clones survived the summer, but
most of the growth occurred in the spring, immediately follow-
ing transplanting, and in the fall and winter.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

These results indicate that the varieties of phormium tested
are not well adapted to the hot weather conditions in South
Urena lobata L., a plant of the family Malvaceae, is claimed
to be indigenous to China. It is found in a wild state in most
tropical and subtropical countries, and in certain areas it has
become a noxious weed. The plant requires a hot, moist, tropical
or subtropical climate and a fertile, well-drained soil (19, 20,
24, 30).
Urena, an annual plant propagated from seed, is generally
planted at the beginning of the wet season. Seeding rates rang-
ing from 20 to 80 pounds per acre have been tried in experi-
ments, and results indicate that about 50 to 60 pounds of seed
per acre are required for best yields (10, 12, 20).
The crop is harvested four to five months after planting, when
the plants are in full flower. At this time stalks have attained a
height of 6 to 8 feet and a fiber content of 5 to 7 percent. The
fiber is extracted by retting (20, 24).
Native grown urena in the Belgian Congo yields about 1,300
pounds of fiber per acre. Experimental results from other areas
indicate that somewhat higher yields can be obtained (10, 12,
20, 24).

Fig. 11.-A planting of Urena lobata P. I. 236439 on Everglades peat. Note
vigorous vegetative growth 113 days after planting.

rl 4 *- -*' l** ^ ^ *^-.
afrs.J^ ^'K*.~ ^^i&"i^ '^>/^ ^ '.-

Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants

The fiber is fine, soft and lustrous, has good spinning qualities
and can be used effectively as a substitute for jute in the manu-
facture of burlap, ropes, carpets, packing materials and up-
holstery (20, 24).
A variety of U. lobata P.I. 236439 obtained from the Belgian
Congo and planted on Everglades peat in June 1955 made very
good growth. Plants attained a height of 10 feet, averaged 4.40
percent fiber in the defoliated stalk, and gave a yield of about
2,000 pounds of retted fiber per acre. In general the quality
of the retted fiber was somewhat lower than that of the varieties
of jute listed in Table 2.
U. lobata is found growing wild in South Florida. However,
plants grown from seed obtained in the vicinity of Lake Worth
and Bradenton were not very promising for fiber production.

Agronomic work on fiber plants is being carried out coopera-
tively by the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the University
of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. Results of tests
with jute, sisal, henequen, furcraea, hemp, abroma, sunn hemp,
flax, abaca, phormium and urena are presented in this paper.
These fiber plants have not been grown commercially in South
Florida for the production of fiber.
In a jute variety experiment on Everglades peat, four varieties
of Corchorus capsularis gave higher yields of fiber than a variety
of Corchorus olitorius; among the C. capsularis varieties, P.I.
187292 gave highest yield of fiber. In terms of fiber quality,
varietal differences in tensile strength and shear were not sig-
nificant, but differences in flex and wear were significant.
In a hard fiber variety experiment on Immokalee fine sand,
henequen, Agave fourcroydes, gave better yields of fiber than
sisal, Agave sisalana, or furcraea, Furcraea gigantea and Fur-
craea cabuya. On the basis of fiber quality, sisal was better than
henequen and furcraea in tensile strength and shear, but hene-
quen was superior in wear and flex.
Date of planting experiments with hemp for seed gave the
following results: on Everglades peat, very low yields and poor
quality seed were obtained; on Immokalee fine sand, yields and
quality of seed were better, but yields were influenced by flood-
ing and response of plant to day length.
A variety of Abroma augusta from the Philippines made poor
growth and did not produce seed. Varieties of sunn hemp,

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Crotalaria juncea, planted on Everglades peat and Immokalee
fine sand made satisfactory growth. However, the fruiting pods
of sunn hemp planted on Immokalee fine sand were attacked by
two lepidopterous insects. The Cascade variety of fiber flax,
Linum usitatissium, grown on Everglades peat made very poor
growth and most of the plants died before harvest.
Four clones of abaca, Musa textilis, planted on Immokalee fine
sand made fair growth. Varieties of phormium, Phormium
tenax, made little growth during the summer but showed an
improvement during the cooler months. A variety of Urena
lobata obtained from the Belgian Congo grew well and gave
much better yields of fiber than the type found growing wild
in Florida.


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Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants 25

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26 Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

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Agronomic Studies of Fiber Plants 27

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