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Natural Product Radiance Vol 2(4) J uly-August 2003

194
Article
FIBRE YIELDING PLANTS OF INDIA
Genetic resources, perspective for collection and utilisation
Anjula Pandey and Rita Gupta
National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources,
New Delhi-110012, India
Abstract
The paper provides a brief overview of the major fibre yielding plants and
their uses in India. This account includes data mainly based on field experience,
market surveys, ethnobotanical information and other relevant literature
available on this account. The enumeration of the species listed under various
plant families provides ready reference for use and commercial names of
important fibre types. The analysis provides the untapped wealth under this
category for widening the base of fibre genetic resources, future collections
and utilisation. The promising species thus indicated may provide scope for
domestication and future cultivation.
Gradual depletion of forest
resources of plant based material resulted
in loss of important diversity. The plant
fibres have specific qualities such as
thermal insulation, resistance to water and
other desirable traits. To increase constant
supply of raw materials to plant fibre based
industries a need was felt to explore and
identify alternative materials. By identifying
new fibre yielding species as well as novel
uses of fibre through research and
development, there would be decrease in
pressure on handful number of species
used for fibre, besides supporting the
small scale industry and reinforcing fibre
for waste fibre recycling (Gillah et al,
1998; Velasquez, 2001). The present
enumeration is an effort in this direction.
The plant fibres are classified
mainly on the basis of morphological
nature, structure, origin and uses. Based
on botanical origin, vegetable fibres
(excluding wood fibres) are grouped into
soft fibres/ bast fibres, hard fibres or
structural fibres and surface fibres. Bast
fibres are exogenous in origin and are
generally more durable, resistant to
retting, bleaching and other processing
treatments. They are associated with
vascular tissues, such as phloem, pericycle
and cortex. Examples of bast fibres are
jute, hemp, flax, roselle, ramie, etc.
Structural fibres primarily associated with
monocotyledonous plants are shorter,
lignified cells surrounding vascular tissue.
They are endogenous in nature, coarse,
weaker, hard and brittle and thus less
durable than the bast fibres. The common
examples include Manila hemp, Sisal and
Kittul fibres. The separation is done by
mechanical methods using simple rollers;
washing, beating and thrashing process is
usually applied to make them into shreds.
The surface fibres originate from the seed/
fruit surface. Cottons and the silk cottons
are common examples of commercial
surface fibres. Fibre separation is done by
the process of ginning and mechanical
extraction.
The plant fibres are variable in
characteristics with respect to strength,
durability, length, texture, plant part in
which present, chemical composition,
pigmentation, resistance to water, etc.
Fibre durability depends largely on the
chemical nature of the deposits and
location in plant tissue. The cellulosic
Introduction
Among the plant species
commonly used by man the fibre yielding
plants hold the second position after the
food plants in their economic importance.
The ancient man started his nomadic life
by using plant materials directly for
covering and protecting his body; thatched
leaf for shelters and huts; mats for
household and other day to day activities.
Gradually fast mobility and advancement
in the lifestyle led him to search for lighter,
more durable and sophisticated looking
material for routine use. There began an
era of developing different types of textiles,
papers, basketories, woven clothes, mats,
hats, ropes and cordage material for
various uses. Some of the oldest
archaeological records of direct or
indirect use of fibre from plants are given
in Table 1.
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fibres such as ramie and cotton fibres are
more durable than the ligno-cellulosic
fibres, jute and mesta. The strength of fibre
is mainly due to purity of cellulose,
thickness of the cell wall and the
clustering.
The present work was
undertaken to enumerate Indian species
reported to have fibre value, identifying
gaps for collection and conservation
programmes and their utilisation at
national and international levels. The
investigation was done during study on
'Genetic Resources of Economically
Important Plant Families` taken up in the
National Herbarium of Cultivated Plants,
National Bureau of Plant Genetic
Resources (NBPGR) during the period
1986-2000.
The data input includes major
and minor, cultivated and wild, indigenous
and exotic plant wealth exploited for fibre
in different parts of India. The information
gathered through field experience,
material collected through various
explorations, ethnobotanical studies,
literature surveys and taxonomic
identification of materials received
through different plant genetic resources
activities, formed the basis for
authentication.
Fibre yielding species - An
analysis of useful genetic
resources
Species have not been exploited
equally from different phytogeographical
regions of the world for their use as fibres.
Vavilov (1951) identified several cultivated
species from different world centers of
diversity namely Abutilon theophrastii
Medic., Boehmeria nivea Gaud.,
Cannabis sativus Linn.(Chinese
Centre); Musa textilis Nees (South east
Asian Centre); Corchorus capsularis
Linn., Crotalaria juncea Linn. and
Hibiscus cannabinus Linn.
(Hindustani Centre); Agave sisalana
Perr. (Meso-American Centre) and
Gossypium hirsutum Linn. (South
American Centre). Presently in India eight
species contribute as major cultivated fibre
crops. However several of the species are
gathered from wild and exploited for
commercial use.
A total of 82 plant families,
representing 273 genera and 453 plant
species from India have been used for
diverse fibre uses. A comprehensive list
Boehmeria nivea
Agave sisalana
Musa textilis
Cannabis sativus
Gossypium hirsutum
Calotropis procera
Ananas comosus
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of major families and genera (number of
species in parenthesis) contributing as
fibre genetic resources viz. Malvaceae
(63), Fabaceae (31), Arecaceae (25),
Urticaceae (24), Tiliaceae (21),
Sterculiaceae (21) and Asclepiadaceae
(15) are given in Table 2. The most
commonly exploited taxa are marked with
asterisk (*). List of commercial species
along with trade names/ commonly used
names are listed in Table 3.
Majority of the species are
exploited from wild or semi-cultivated
state (Negi, 1992). The plant fibres are
extracted from different parts such as
stem, leaf, petioles, roots, fruits and seeds.
In comparison to other plant parts, the
bast fibres have been of maximum use for
extraction of fibre. A few species
contribute as source of fibre from roots
and stems both (eg. Cissus
quadrangularis Linn.)and from roots
(Muhlenbergia). Natural fibre cloth
known as trapa cloth is made from bark
of Paper-Mulberry (Broussonetia
papyrifera Vent.).
The fibres are mainly used for
textile and paper manufacture, filling,
making ropes, fishing nets and cordage,
thatch, hats and other weaving materials
and brush making. For items like gunny
bags, ropes, cordage, fishing nets, bast
fibres of commercially exploited species
such as Corchorus spp., Hibiscus,
Linum and Urena have often been
used.
The items made from bast fibres
are more durable than those from the
structural fibres. Fishing nets/fishing
lines are prepared from strong and
water resistant bast fibres of Pongamia
pinnata Pierre, Pandanus thwaitsii
Mart., Melochia corchorifolia Linn.,
Cryptolepis grandiflora, Crotalaria
juncea Linn., Entada phaseoloides
Merrill, Artocarpus altilis (Park.)
Fosberg, Trema cannabina Lour.,
Oreocnide frutescens Miq.,
Calotropis gigantea (Linn.) R.Br.,
C. procera (Ait.)R. Br., Boehmeria
spp. and Debregeasia wallichiana
Wedd.
The manufacture of paper from
pulp has been known in China from very
early times. In India generally diverse type
of material is used for manufacture of
paper such as different species of
bamboos, refuge from textile industry,
grasses and sedges (mainly Cyperus).
The rice straw, young bamboos, bark of
paper mulberry are regular source of soft
and flexible fibres generally used for
paper. Unique examples are the home
made paper of Assam from bark of
Aquilaria agallocha Roxb. and
Lasiosiphon eriocephalus Decne
and rice paper from Wikstroemia
canescens Meissn. (in China and
Assam). Among the much used species are
Daphne cannabina Wall., Urtica
spp., Broussonetia papyrifera Vent.,
Hibiscus cannabinus Linn., H.
sabdariffa Linn., Streblus asper
Lour., Parkinsonia aculeate Linn.,
Linum usitatissimum Linn., Betula
alnoides Buch.-Ham. (Indian Birch),
Cannabis sativa Linn. (Eucalyptus
spp., Picea smithiana Boiss.,
tropical pines etc., Borassus flabellifer
Linn. (Palmyra palm) and Corypha
umbraculifera Linn. However, high
quality fine paper is made from fibres
of different palm species, bamboos and
refuge from textile industry.
For filling of articles like pillows,
mattresses, toys, soft fibre from
Gossypium, Ceiba and Bombax and
rejects from other sources are often used.
The fibres from Phoenix sylvestris
Roxb. and Ceiba pentandra (Linn.)
Gaertn. are thermal insulator. The curled
fibre from Chamaerops humilis is
used for stuffing and carpets manufacture.
Hard fibres or structural fibres
are mainly used for making articles like
basketories, mats, hats and brushes. For
this purpose parts like leaves, green spathe
and dried stalks are used. The most
commonly used types being from
Caryota utilis, C. urens Linn.,
Phoenix, Phytolephas, Raphia
farinifera Hylander and many other
types locally preferred. In this category
majority of fibres are contributed from
different genera under families Araceae,
Arecaceae, Liliaceae and Poaceae
(Table 2).
Important fibre yielding
species
The fibres obtained from the
grass family were probably among the first
ones to be used for various purposes. The
indigenous grass, Erianthus munja
Jesw. is made into ropes that are resistant
to water and used for tying cattle.
Spartium junceum Linn. is used for
preparing different articles requiring high
strength and durability. Cyperus
corymbosus Rottb. called papyrus
pangorei, the Madoorkati of Bengal is used
for making shining mats.
The cotton grass, Eriophorum
cannabinum commonly called the False
Bhabar grass and Eulaliopsis binata
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Sterculia, Abroma and Guazuma. In
Assam fibre from Sterculia villosa
Roxb. (Udal) a native of the hilly regions
of West Bengal is used for making breast
bands used for tying wild elephants. The
ropes made from Microlaena
spectabilis (a tree at foothills of the
Himalayas) is used for same purpose
elsewhere.
(Retz.)C. E. Hubbard, the Bhabar grass
are known for their strength and use in
ropes, employed by the mountaineers,
jhoolas and over bridges on rivers. In
the tropical parts of India, palms are used
for various purposes. Narrow leaved types
are plaited into mats and basketories and
smooth leaves for writing. Leaves of many
palms are employed for thatching, hats
and for making mats and umbrellas.
Licuala peltata Roxb., the Chattah-pat
of Assam is in universal demand in this
area as Phoenix sylvestris Roxb. for
mats and baskets in Bengal region.
Borassus flabellifer,
Caryota urens, Corypha taliera
Roxb. (Bengal-tara) and
C. umbraculifera Linn. (Buri palm)
and C. utan Lam. (the talipat of
Peninsular region) are much employed
for making hats and leaf umbrellas. The
black fibre of Caryota urens (Kittul
fibre) from leaf bases measures 70-80 cm
(Macmillan, 1991) and is used for making
strong ropes employed for tying wild
elephants. Ejoo or Gomuti fibre from
Arenga spinnata is black, hard, hair
like, strong, more durable, but less pliant
and elastic than the coir. They resist decay
and are more fit for cables and standing
ringing.
Coir (Cocos nucifera Linn.),
owing to unique thermal qualities is much
preffered to other fibres for use as cordage
fibre in place of hair for stuffing
mattresses. Other palms as Zalacca
macrostachya is used for making
baskets and for tying Nipa leaves. The
leaves of Nicobar bread fruit (Pandanus
odoratissimus Linn. f.) dried over fire
are used to make mats, baskets and other
articles. Among other species, silk cottons
are mainly contributed from Bombax,
roxburghiana Schult. f. fibres (60 cm
long under cultivation) identical to China
grass are ideal for making bowstring and
fine thread for ornamental purposes.
In family Malvaceae, among the
cultivated species cottons are the source
of high quality cellulosic fibre form seed
surface. Other genera namely
Hibiscus, Kydia, Sida, Thespesia
and Urena are also source of bast
fibres. Wissadula periplocifolia
Presl ex Thw. yields soft, silky and
spinable fibre of superior quality
compared to jute. Hibiscus
cannabinus Linn., the mesta, or patua
of West Bengal cultivated all over India is
used for fibre. In Bihar ropes made from
its fibre, though harsher, are more
durable than those made from the jute.
In family Tiliaceae major fibre
yielding genera are Grewia,
Corchorus and Triumfetta. Grewia
optiva Drum. commonly called Russian
bast or bhimal is employed for ropes in
mountainous region (Sneh Lata, 1997).
Besides the cultivated species of
Corchorus, wild species occurring as
weeds in different parts of India are much
used for extraction of fibre. Cannabis
sativa of Cannabinaceae is cultivated in
Himalayas for fibre and in plains for other
uses (Shah, 1997).
Among the family Fabaceae
Crotalaria juncea is known for the use
as strong fibre that is more resistant to jute.
The thread was used for sacred thread
worn by the Kshatrias or Rajputs as of
cottons by the Brahmins (Royle, 1984).
Besides, bark of other species such as
C. retusa is employed in Madras,
C. burhia in Rajasthan and others
elsewhere for rope and making cordage.
Sesbania aculeata Pers., a cultivated
Ananas comosus (Linn.)
Merrill the pineapple is recommended
for manufacture of pina cloth which is a
delicate fabric of Philippines. The Moorva
of South America and the inner fibres of
the plantain, resemble each other in
fineness and fitness of fibre as textile
fabrics, which are esteemed. The refuge
from this may be excellent material for
paper making. The pita fibre, Yucca, New
Zealand Flax, Manila hemp and fibre from
plantains, are coarse in texture and fit for
cordage and ordinary purpose.
In North West India, the leaves
of Typha elephantiana Roxb. and
T. angustifolia Watt are used for
making mats. Fibre extracted from Agave
cantala Roxb. is a cheap substitute
for string and cord. Sansevieria
Ananas comosus
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species yielding fibre (3m long) which is
coarser and more harsher than that of
hemp and more durable in water. Despite
having excellent fibre qualities this crop
remains much more neglected for its fibre
value. The fibre obtained from other
leguminous species as Bauhinia vahlii
Wight & Arn., Butea monosperma
(Lam.) Kuntze and Parkinsonia
aculeata Linn. remain exploited at local
levels.
Members of family Urticaceae are
known to yield high quality bast fibre.
Boehmeria nivea Gaud. (ramie, the
China grass fibre) has of late attracted the
consideration for use as fibre in our
country on account of its white silky fibre
used singly or in combination for different
uses. Other species of importance are
B. macrophylla D. Don, B.
malabarica Wedd., B. platyphylla
D. Don, Oreocnide frutescens Miq.,
Pipturus incanus Wedd., Pouzolzia
viminea Wedd. and Trema orientalis
Blume. These species yield strong fibre
for making fishing lines. Among the
species that can substitute for ramie are
O. integrifolia and Sarcocalamys
pulcherrima. Girardinia spp. and
Laportea crenulata Gaud. yield tribal
cloth. B. rugulosa, a good species for
bare hill slopes to prevent soil erosion is
equally important fibre source in
Himalayas.
Fibres obtained from
Boehmeria sp. (mesakhee fibre) and
Urtica crenulata (chor putta or
surat) commonly growing in the hills and
valleys of Bangladesh are commonly used
by the tribals for making cloths. Another
species Urtica heterophylla (the
horoo surat of Assam) a widely
occurring species yields white glossy, silky
fibre of strong nature. Bark of Urtica and
Boehmeria with strong fibres are
potentially important species in paper
industry. U. tuberosa used by the native
Indians for edible root-stocks may be
searched for its potential as fibre types.
U. dioica, the string nettle of Himalayas
is now identified as fibre yielding species
of commercial importance and export
potential for cottage and textile industry.
Amongst the oldest exogenous
plant fibres, flax (Linum
usitatissimum Linn.), member of
Linaceae, was cultivated in India since time
immemorial. But its use as fibre plant
in India is recent. This may be because
in India cotton was much preferred
for use than any other species.
Of the Asclepiadaceae members,
akund floss, obtained from Calotropis
procera (Ait.)R. Br. and C. gigantea
(Linn.) R. Br. ex Ait. mainly from the
seed fibre of former, is available from the
wild population in different part of India.
Australia and the New Zealand were once
the chief markets for Indian akund floss
(Maheshwari and Tandon, 1959). In
Rajasthan and adjacent region, ropes and
other items prepared from the bark of C.
procera are reported to be more durable
than the sunhemp and thus good substitute
for the latter (Pers. com. 2001).
Members of the family Moraceae
are known to yield low grade bast fibres
used for rope and cordage making. Among
the commonest species used for this
purpose, Artocarpus altilis yields water
resistant fibres. Other species are Ficus
religiosa Linn. formerly used for paper
making and Broussonetia papyrifera
a source of lustrous fibre.
Exploitation of fibre yielding
species for various uses is linked to their
geographical distribution, area of
occurrence, availability and abundance of
the species, local preferences, agro-
climatic conditions, socio-economic
setup, facilities available for processing,
transport and marketing of products. The
areas near water sources were identified
as the seat for selection of bast fibre
yielding species. Species known to be
resistant to water were mainly used for
making fishing nets, water proof material
andropes near coastal areas. The
structural fibres are exploited in areas
where palms and other Arecaceae
members are commonly available. For
similar types of fibre articles different,
species are exploited in different areas
where found in plenty. For example
Grewia optiva for ropes in hills and
Corchorus, Hibiscus and Urtica
dioca in the north region for same
purposes.
There are several substitutes for
commertial fibres that can be identified
and evaluated for specific uses. Fibres
from Canna orientalis Ker-Gawl,
Triumfetta pentandra A. Rich.,
Wissadula periplocifolia as substitute
for jute; Clinogyne dichotoma
Salisb. for Panama fibre for jute; Urtica
pilulifera Linn. for flax and ramie are
some examples. The common plantain
fibre though does not possess the strength
of the Manila hemp, yet same may be
suitable for other uses as cordage, canvas,
fine fabrics and articles of lusters and
decorative use.
Priorities and prospects for
collection
The genetic resources of
important fibre yielding species and their
substitutes have been highlighted for the
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Orissa, Haryana, Bihar, Assam, UP, TN, AP,
Gujarat, J&K and Jharkhand.
Augmentation of germplasm has
been done for fibre and allied crops from
national and international sources through
the active involvement of institutions such
as Central Research Institute for Jute and
Allied Fibres (CRIJAF), Barrakpore (Sinha
et al, 1987). Under this variability in
Corchorus capsularis, Crotalaria
juncea, Gossypium arboreum
Linn. and Hibiscus cannabinus has
been assembled. The supportive
research programmes running at CRIJAF,
Barrakpore pointed out the researchable
issues like fibre yield and quality
characters, retting of stem, fibre extraction
and sundrying of processed and wet fibre
after extraction, estimation of dry fibre
yield in the different germplasm of
Hibiscus cannabinus, H.
sabdariffa, sunhemp, jute, mesta and
flex.
In major fibre crops of India
efforts need to be made for pinpointing
the priority collections (Arora, 1991). The
identified gap areas for collection include
specific variability for cotton in cold
tolerant types from J&K; Nagaland,
Manipur, Maharashtra and Telangana
region of Andhra Pradesh for local varients
(Malik et al, 2001). The potential types
and substitute species for other fibre crops
need to be identified and evaluated for
their traits and requisite collections be
made. The most urgent research and
development issues need is to be explored
and sorted out for more efficient and
cheaper ways to explore them.
Conclusions
With the advancement of
synthetic fibres there has been an effect
Indian region. Since 1976, the National
Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources has
undertaken several explorations for
collection of fibre yielding species from
different parts of the country. In total more
than, 14 explorations have been carried
out and over 790 germplasm accessions
of fibre types have been collected from
diverse parts of India. This includes
collections of all four species in cotton,
from NEH region, Saurashtra and Kachchh
of Gujarat, north Karnataka and south
coastal region in Andhra Pradesh
(extending to Tamil Nadu), and parts of
Jammu, Malva and Nimar region of
Madhya Pradesh.
Among the major fibre yielding
species, in Corchorus, five hundred nine
accessions of the cultivated and wild types
have been assembled from Garo hills in
Meghalaya, Mikir hills and Goalpara in
Assam, tribal pockets in Orissa, Bihar,
Saurashtra and Kachchh in Gujarat and
parts of Rajasthan. A total of 519
accessions of kenaf (Hibiscus
cannabinus) and roselle (Hibiscus
sabdariffa) and sunhemp (Crotalaria
juncea) were collected from Telangana,
Rayalseema, and coastal Andhra Pradesh,
and from Western Ghats in Maharashtra
(Verma and Kumar, 1992). Much
variability in jute from parts of West
Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and NEH region
needs to be explored.
Under a mission mode
programme of the National Agricultural
Technology Project (NATP) on Sustainable
Management of Plant Biodiversity at the
NBPGR, during 1999-2001, collections of
different accessions of cotton, jute,
sunhemp, kenaf, roselle, and others were
assembled from parts of Kerala, Mizoram,
MP, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Pondicherry,
on plant fibre industry all over the world,
particularly in terms of production, export
and end uses. The forestry based plant
products can contribute to the income of
the rural population. The raw material
collected from the wild and processed for
getting fibre for small scale/ cottage
industry can generate rural employment
and income especially for poor and
landless farmers in the rural and tribal
areas of the country. Moreover,
dependency on handful number of species
for fibre yield for day to day requirements
can be reduced by identifying and adopting
large number of allied species that can
supplement to the fibre requirement with
same or better potential.
The research and development
activities, despite abundance of fibre
yielding species in native country, has not
geared up to the level to attracted the
attention it deserves. Potential species
mostly grow wild or form the refuge under
cultivation; generally on seacoasts and
forest undergrowth. They are traversed by
navigable rivers and cost little for carriage.
If low-cost techniques are available for
their extraction and processing, the
benefits may be multi-fold to raise the
economy of rural population. Reduced
cost of manufacture of fibre based
produce may also supplement to national
economy by many folds. Thus a large
number of plant species can largely
contribute to economic upliftment of local
people through development of R&D
programmes suitable for small scale
industrialization.
Acknowledgements
The authors are thankful to
the Director, National Bureau of Plant
Natural Product Radiance Vol 2(4) J uly-August 2003
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Article
14. Sinha, MK, Mahapatra, AK, Guharoy,
MK, Shome, A and Chakrabarti, NK,
Genetic Resources of Jute and Allied
Fibres. In: Plant Genetic Resources:
An Indian Persepective. Paroda,
RS, and Arora, RK (eds.), pp 232-
242. National Bureau of Plant
Genetic Resources, New Delhi, 1987,
545 p.
15. Sneh Lata, Indigenous knowledge
about Grewia optiva in Indo-Nepal
Himalayas, Ethnobotany, 1997, 9
(1 & 2), 112-116.
16. Vavilov, The origin, variation,
immunity and breeding of cultivated
crops, Chron Bot, 1951, 13, 364.
17. Velasquez, JR, Wounaan and Embera
Uses and Management of the Fibre
Palm Astrocaryum standleyanum
(Arecaceae) for basketories in
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55(1), 72-82.
18. Verma, VD and Kumar, D, Collecting
jute and kenaf from Western Ghats of
Maharashtra, IBPGR Newsletter
for Asia and the Pacific and
Oceania, 1992, 10, 14-15.
19. Vishnu Mitre, Paleobotanical
Evidences in India, In: Evolutionary
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Hutchinson J(ed.), London,
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20. Wiersema, JH and Blanca Leon, World
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Genetic Resources, New Delhi for
constant encouragement in shaping this
information. Thanks are also due to the
Head, Division of Germplasm
Exploration and Collection for providing
material, information and help. Senior
author's sincere thanks are due to all
our exploration colleagues for their
constant support and help in field
study and raising the material in pot
cultures.
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Dhillon, BS, Varaprasad, KS,
Srinivasan, K, Singh, M, Archak, S,
Srivastava, UC and Sharma, GD (eds.),
National Bureau of Plant Genetic
Resources, New Delhi, 2001, pp.
31-68, 329 p.
10. Negi, RS, Economic Forest Resources
of Garhwal-Kumaon Himalayas.
Indian For, 1992, 118(8):
583-593.
11. Pers. Com.. Old farmer, village Dera,
Shairagarh Tehsil, Rajasthan, 2001.
12. Royle, JF, The fibrous plants of India
fitted for cordage, clothing and paper
with an account of the cultivation and
preparation of flax, hemp, and their
substitutes. Periodical Experts Book
Agency, Delhi, 1984(reprint), 408 p.
13. Shah, NC, Ethnobotany of Cannabis
sativa in Kumaon Region, India,
Ethnobotany, 1997, 9 (1 & 2),
117-121.
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Table 1. Archaeological evidences for use of plant fibres
Items/articles Source/places Period
Cotton & silk Nevasa 1500 BC
Cotton fibre (fibres on copper Mohenjo-daro & Harappa, India 2300-1750 BC
tools & impressions on silver vessels)
Crafted net (from Apocynum) Danger caves, Utah, USA 5000 BC
Flax fibre (from linseed) Swiss lake dwellings; paintings in 10000 BC; 4000 yrs;
Egyptian tomb; mummy draped in 1400-1200 BC
cloth; spun fibre at Chandoli, India
Palm leaf fibre Tehucan valley excavations, Mexico 12000 yrs
Ropes Egyptian tombs;tomb paintings 4000 yrs;500 BC
Textile impressions Iron Age Shreds, Mysore, India 1000 BC
Urticaceous fibres Atranji Khera, India 1200-600 BC
Source: Vishnu Mitre, 1974; Royle, 1984
Table 2. Major plant families and genera used for fibre in India
Family Genera (species no.)
Acanthaceae Carvia (1)
Agavaceae *Agave (5),*Furcraea (6), Phormium* (1), Sansevieria (5),Yucca (3)
Alocaceae Aloe (1)
Amaranthaceae Celosia (1)
Anacardiaceae Lannea (1), Spondias (1), Swintonia (1)
Annonaceae Desmos (1), Goniothalamus (1), Miliusa (1), Polyalthia (2)
Apocynaceae Alstonia (1), Anodendron (1), Beaumontia (1), Chonemorpha (1),
Ichnocarpus(1), Melodinus (1)
Araceae Cailliea (1), Lasia (1), Scindapsus (1)
Araliaceae *Tetrapanax (1)
Araucariaceae *Araucaria (1)
Arecaceae Arenga (2), Borassus (1), Caryota(2), Chamaerops (2), Coccothrinax (1),
*Cocos (1), Corypha (1), Licuala (1), Livistona (2), Nannorrhops (1),
Phoenix (4), Phytelephas (1), Raphia (3), Sabal (1), Syagrus (1),
Trachycarpus (1), Washingtonia (1)
Asclepiadaceae Asclepias (1), *Calotropis (2), Cryptolepis (2), Dregea (1), Holostemma (1),
Hoya (1), Leptadenia (1), Marsdenia (2), Orthanthera (1), Telosma (1), Tylophora (1)
Asteraceae Gerbera (1), Helianthus (1)
Betulaceae Betula (1)
Bignoniaceae Dolichandrone (2), Spathodea (1)
Bombacaceae Adansonia (1), Bombax (1), *Ceiba (1), Ochroma (1)
Boraginaceae Cordia (1)
Bromeliaceae Bromelia (1)
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Family Genera (species no.)
Burseraceae *Boswellia (1)
Cactaceae Opuntia (1)
Caesalpiniaceae Bauhinia (9), Hardwickia (1), Parkinsonia (1), Schizolobium (1), Tamarindus (1)
Cannabinaceae *Cannabis (1), Humulus (1)
Cannaceae Canna (1)
Caprifoliaceae Lonicera (1)
Celastraceae Catha (1)
Combretaceae *Terminalia (2)
Cucurbitaceae Sechium (1)
Cupressaceae Thuja (1)
Cyclanthaceae Carludovica (1)
Cyperaceae *Cyperus (3), Cladium (1), Eriophorum (1), Fimbristylis (2),
Scirpus (1), Scirpodendron (1), Scleria (1), *Furcraea (6)
Dilleniaceae Dillenia (1), *Tetracera (1)
Dipterocarpaceae Shorea (1)
Euphorbiaceae Aleurites (1), Drypetes (1), *Endospermum (1), Jatropha (1), Macaranga (1)
Fabaceae Aeschynomene (1), Butea (2),* Crotalaria (6), Derris (1), Desmodium (1),
Erythrina (2), Glycine (1), *Indigofera (3), Lespedeza(1), Millettia (1),
Ougeinia (1), Pachyrrhizus (1), Pueraria (2), Robinia (1), Sesbania (4),
Spartium (1), Wisteria (1)
Fagaceae Castanea (1), Fagus (1)
Gleicheniaceae Dicranopteris (1)
Gnetaceae Gnetum (2)
Goodeniaceae Scaveola (1)
Hydrocharitaceae Enhalus (1)
Iridaceae Iris (1)
Juncaceae Juncus (2)
Lecythidaceae Careya (1)
Liliaceae Curculigo (2)
Linaceae *Linum (1)
Lythraceae Lagerstroemia (2)
Malvaceae Abelmoschus (5), Abutilon (8), Althaea (1), Azanza (1), *Gossypium (4),
*Hibiscus (13), Kydia (1), Malachra (1), Malvastrum (1), Pavonia (2),
Sida (5), Thespesia (1), *Urena (3), Wissadula (1)
Marantaceae Clinogyne (1)
Melastomataceae Melastoma (1)
Meliaceae Soymida (1)
Menispermaceae Cissampelos (1), Hypserpa (1)
Mimosaceae *Acacia (5), Entada (1), Leucaena (1), Parapiptadenia (1), Xylia (1)
Moraceae Allaeanthus (1), Antiaris (1), Artocarpus (1), Broussonetia (1), *Ficus (8),
Morus (1), Streblus (1)
Musaceae Ensete (1), Musa (2)
Myrtaceae Eucalyptus (1)
Nelumbonaceae Nelumbo (1)
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Family Genera (species no.)
Nyssaceae Nyssa (1)
Orchidaceae Dendrobium (1)
Pandanaceae Pandanus (3)
Periplocaceae Periploca (1)
Pinaceae *Abies(1), Cunninghamia (1), Cupressus (1), Juniperus (2), Picea (1),
Pinus (1)
Poaceae Andropogon (1), Arundinaria (3), Bambusa (9), Cymbopogon (1),
Dendrocalamus (3), Desmostachya (1), Erianthus (1), Eulaliopsis (1),
Heteropogon (1), Hierochloe (1), Imperata (1), Lasiurus (1), Muhlenbergia (1),
Neohouzeaua (2), Ochlandra (2), Oxytenanthera (1), Pennisetum (1),
Phragmites (1), Phalaris (1), Phyllostachys (2), Saccharum (2), Schoenefeldia (1),
Sclerostachya (1), Secale (1), Sehima (1), Sorghum (1), Stipa (1),
Thamnocalamus (2), Themeda (3),Thyrsotachys (1), Vetiveria (1), Vossia (1), Zea (1)
Polypodiaceae Stenochlaena (1)
Pontederiaceae Eichhornia (1)
Ranunculaceae Clematis (1), Naravelia (1)
Rhamnaceae Ventilago (1)
Rhizophoraceae Bruguierea (1), *Rhizophora (1)
Rosaceae *Cotoneaster (1), *Rubus (1)
Rubiaceae Anthocephalus (1), Canthium (1), Mitragyna (1), Nauclea (1)
Salicaceae *Salix (6)
Saxifragaceae Philadelphus (1)
Sonneratiaceae Sonneratia (1)
Sphagnaceae Sphagnum (3)
Sterculiaceae Abroma(1), Dombeya (1), Eriolaena (1), Erythropsis (2), Guazuma (1), Helicteres (1),
Kleinhovia (1), Melochia (2), Pentapetes (1), Pterospermum (2), Pterocymbium (1),
Pterygota (1), Scaphium (1), Sterculia (6)
Taxodiaceae Sequoia (1), Taxodium (1)
Theaceae *Schima (1)
Thymelaeaceae Aquilaria (2), *Daphne (4), Edgeworthia (1), Gyrinops (1), Lasiosiphon (1),
Wikstroemia (1)
Tiliaceae Berrya (1), *Corchorus (3), Erinocarpus (1), *Grewia (9), Microcos (1), Muntingia (1),
Sparrmannia (1), Tilia (1), Trichospermum (1), Triumfetta (3)
Typhaceae Typha (3)
Ulmaceae Holoptelea (1), Trema (3), Ulmus (1)
Urticaceae *Boehmeria (5), Debregeasia (4), Forskohlea (1), Girardinia (3), Gonostegia (1),
Laportea (1), Maoutia (1), Oreocnide (2), Pilea (2), Pipturus (1), Pouzolzia (1),
Sarcochlamys (1), *Urtica (3)
Verbenaceae *Gmelina (1)
Vitaceae *Cissus (3)
* : most commonly exploited species
Data compiled from: Ambasta et al, 1986; Islam, 1984; ITM, 1985; Wiersema and Leon, 1999.
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Table 3. Some fibre yielding crops and their commercial fibres
Plant species Commercial fibres
Abroma augusta L. Perennial Indian hemp, Devil's cotton
Abutilon theophrastii Medic. Abutilon hemp, American jute
Agave cantala Roxb. Maguey, Cantala, Bombay hemp, Bombay aloe
Agave sisalana Perr. Sisal
Ananas comosus (L.) Merrill Pina fibre
Arenga pinnata (Wurmb.) Merrill Gomuti palm fibre
Betula alnoides Buch.-Ham. Indian birch, Bhojpatra
Betula utilis D.Don Himalayan silver birch, Bhujpattra
Boehmeria nivea (L.) Gaudich Ramie fibre, China grass, Rhea, Chinese silk plant
Bromelia magdalenae C.H.Wright Pita fibre
Bromelia pinguin L. Pingvin, Wild pineapple fibre
Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) Vent Paper mulberry, Trapa cloth fibre
Calotropis gigantea (L.) R. Br. ex Ait. Akund fibre
Calotropis procera (Ait.) R. Br. Akund fibre
Cannabis sativa L. Hemp fibre
Caryota urens L. Kittul fibre, Salopa
Ceiba pentendra (L.) Gaertn. Kapok fibre
Cocos nucifera L. Coconut fibre, Coir
Corchorus capsularis L. Jute butts, Narcha
Corchorus olitorius L. Tossa jute, Daisee, Jew's mallow
Corypha utan Lam. Buri raffia fibre, Buntal fibre
Crotalaria juncea L. Sunn, Sannhemp
Daphne papyracea Wall. Ex Steud. Nepal paper
Furcraea gigantea Vent. Mauritius hemp
Furcraea hexapetala Urban Cuba hemp
Furcraea humboldtiana Trel. Cocuiza fibre
Furcraea macrophylla Baker Fique fibre
Gossypium arboreum L. Cotton, Oriental cotton, Old world cotton
Gossypium barbadense L. Sea Island cotton, Egyptian cotton, Brazilian cotton,
Peruvian cotton, Kidney cotton
Gossypium herbaceum L. Levant cotton
Gossypium hirsutum L. American cotton, Bourbon cotton, Upland cotton
Hibiscus cannabinus L. Mesta, Kenaf, Roselle
Linum usitatissimum L. Flax
Maoutia puya Wedd. Puya, Nepal hemp
Musa textilis Nees Manila hemp
Oreocnide integrifolia Miq. Risa fibre, Ban rhea
Phormium tenax Forst. New Zealand flax, New Zealand hemp
Raphia farinifera Hylander Raffia fibre, West African piassava, Lagos Bass
Raphia hookeri Mann & Wendl. Piassava
Sabal palmetto Lodd. ex Roem. & Schult. Palmetto fibre
Sansevieria roxburghiana L. Indian bowstring hemp, Murva fibre
Urena lobata L. Aramina fibre, Congo jute