The petioles or leafstalks start growing at the
base of the stalk and make their way successively upwards. The position of
the petiole is the determining factor for the color of the fiber that it
And how do you think the tree indicates that the
time is ripe for harvesting it? When the sheathing petioles are ready, just
as in the banana plant, and a large flower spike emerges from the top of the
plant stalk. Small flowers in dense clusters ranging in color from cream to
a shade of deep rose also yield banana shaped fruit. These fruits are,
however, inedible which is rather a pity considering they are fairly large
in size – about 8 centimeters in length and 2.5 centimeters in diameter.
Their green skins make them look very attractive. The pulp of these fruits
is white and they contain fairly large and black seeds.
Rich, loose and loamy soil is needed for this plant. The soil should
also have good drainage. The mature rootstock is planted at the start of the
rainy season. The plant stalks are ready for harvesting after about 18 to 20
months of planting. Two to four stalks can be harvested at an interval of
four to six months. While harvesting, the stalks are cut close to the
ground. The plants are generally replaced once in ten years.
For fiber extraction, the process is the same as followed for flax and
hemp. The outer layer of the stalk is removed and the strips thus obtained
are put through a cleaning process in which all pulpy material is scraped
off. As a result the strands of fiber are freed and then dried. It is the
outer sheaths of the stalk that yield the strongest fibers.
The fiber thus obtained is flexible, strong and can withstand exposure
to seawater. It has therefore become the preferred type of cordage used for
marine activities. Other uses range from well drilling and power
transmission cables, fishing nets and even in items of domestic use like
carpets, tablemats and paper. The strands of fiber extracted from the inner
sheaths of the stalk are even used to manufacture fabrics that are used in
garments and accessories. The fiber extracted from the inner sheaths is fine
and often reaches a length of 15 feet.
Manila hemp became an important source of cordage
fiber during the nineteenth century. During World War II it became difficult
for the western world to procure abaca cordage from Philippines. Therefore,
production was stepped up in other parts of the world.