An ancient plant with new applications
Originating in East Africa, kenaf is a member of the hibiscus family and is most closely related to okra and cotton. Kenaf has been grown for thousands of years and used as a source of food and for its fiber. Presently the crop is grown all over the world; predominantly in India, the United States, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Vietnam, and Thailand. For a plant that has been farmed for centuries, the uses for the plant may not be quite as ancient.
The parts of Kenaf
Kenaf plants are comprised of three main components. There is the flower of the plant, that contains the seeds which can be processed into oils (similar to hemp seeds). Then there is the outer layer of the plant, where the kenaf fibers can be found. This fiber has high tensile strength and can be further processed to even make paper. The final piece of the kenaf plant is the inner woody core. While it isn’t quite as adaptable as the fiber, kenaf hurd can still be used for a variety of applications. This core has a very high absorbency rate and mechanical properties that closely resemble hemp hurd.
An adaptive and rapidly-renewable crop
This is an extremely adaptive plant and has been grown in a variety of different climates. It is likely the most adaptive fiber plant that is currently commercially grown. Kenaf can even thrive in higher temperature climates with longer warm seasons. This is not to say it can’t still be grown in cooler climates, but the yields will just suffer as a result.
Kenaf grows incredibly fast, taking between four to five months to fully mature. With its incredible adaptability, there is no surprise that it is considered one of the most likely crops to be produced for paper in place of trees. Since kenaf can be grown in the same fields year after year, the turnover time relative to trees is dramatically shorter.
With its incredible adaptability, kenaf could possibly be the solution to our Earth’s deforestation problems and maybe even a few more. The highly durable kenaf fiber poses high tensile strength making it ideal for use in textile applications, composites, and many other industries.
Rapidly renewable crops such as kenaf have the potential to be incredible solutions to many technical and ecological problems in today’s world.