Image: Wikimedia Commons.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Cotton, a soft, fluffy staple fibre that grows in a protective capsule around seeds of plants of the genus Gossypium, is converted into the world’s most widely used natural-fibre cloth. But its pre-eminent position may soon be challenged by pineapple-derived fabric if Jamil Salleh [Associate Professor and textile technologist at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Malaysia] is successful. Salleh’s project aims to assess techniques to extract the long fibres of the leaves of pineapple (Ananas comosus), which have been woven into fabric in south-east Asia for many years. Although demand for pineapple fibres is unlikely to rival the demand for cotton fibres, this initiative could be a profitable way of dealing with leaves left over after the pineapples have been harvested, and is arguably a more environmentally responsible use than simply burning them. So, in a new twist on an old adage, this could be a case of riches from ‘rags’ (for so the ill-informed describe couture clothing). However, let us hope that any resurgence in demand for bromeliad-based fabrics does not threaten the providing species with extinction, as seems to be a serious concern for other economically important plants elsewhere in the Pacific . 

Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international phytological organ for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I also continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Botany One. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]


  • Banana and flax are both multi-purpose crops as well. Banana leaves are used extensively as disposable plates in Asia, and for roofing throughout the tropics. Banana fibres – either from the edible species, or more often from the close relative Musa textilis grown specifically for the fibre – are known as Manila or abaca or cohu hemp. Manila paper, as in the eponymous envelopes, and ropes were originally the major use. Now the special qualities of the fibre – durability, flexibility and chemical or salt resistance – mean the fibre is restricted to very high value uses such as Japanese banknotes, tea-bags and filter papers. I have a pair of abaca trousers, bought in England, and shirts are also available, although unfortunately I have only seen them on sale in a rather fetching shade of pink!

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