If you’ve been to our website, www.glcgreen.net or one of many that purchased our charming lampshades in the Shade Bar, then for sure you’ve encountered the name, Abaca. It is, as mentioned in our Materials brief, the strongest natural fiber known to man and is indigenous to the beautiful islands of the Philippines.
As a testament to its strength, it was originally used as materials to make rope for ship anchors! Well, if it can hold 20,000 tons of metal by sheer tensile strength, then it’s probably really, really strong.
However, don’t let its strength fool you. Abaca, like in our lampshades, is commonly used for home décor and furniture. It possesses a soft texture that makes it ideal for rugs and even clothes. Although its natural color ranges from brown to blonde, it can easily be dyed with almost any color.
So here are some other cool facts about this fiber that you might want to know:
1. IT GOES BY ANOTHER NAME
Abaca, scientific name Musa textilis, is also commonly known as Manila Hemp. Yes, Manila, as in the capital city of the Philippines. This however, was not a conceited effort for bragging rights to this fiber, if that was even a concern during the 19th century. It was actually because of one US Navy Lieutenant who brought the sample back to the States in 1820.
Soon after, an export shipment of abaca was made to Salem, Massachusetts under the product name of simply "Manila", since the Philippines was then commonly known by the name of its capital city, Manila. And since it was the Navy who “discovered” its properties, the fiber was then used as rope for naval activities.
2. Abaca is filipino...99% of the time
Philippines produces 89% of the world’s supply of Abaca. It was first discovered and controlled in the Philippines but during the 16th century, seeds of it were scattered in many parts of the world for propagation but mostly failed. So if you are to test the DNA of Abaca grown in another country, most likely it will trace back to the Philippines.
10% is from Ecuador, thanks to some Japanese dude named Furukawa who successfully cultivated it there after the 2nd World War. The remaining 1% is shared by other countries like Indonesia, Burma, China, and some other tropical countries.
3. IT'S NOT A BANANA PLANT!
Yes, it looks sooo much like the banana plant. It would be hard for an untrained eye to identify which is which. But there are some key characteristics that you can look for without the help of your friendly neighbor Abaca farmer.
Generally, abaca is smaller than the banana. Its leaves are narrower with pointed ends and noticeably darker compared to the banana leaves which are broader and somewhat lighter in color. But the most obvious characteristics is probably the fruits, as the banana has bigger while the abaca has smaller and not palatable. I guess, it will still take some getting used to, to be really able to differentiate them but at least you know the basics.
4. NOPE, YOU CAN'T SMOKE THIS ONE.
Since it’s called Manila Hemp, one might wonder if it is in any way related to the more famous Hemp, Marijuana. Well, sorry to those of you who wants to go for a natural high, it is not.
Here’s a brief explanation from the Abaca handbook:
The name "hemp" is from the old English word "hanf" which came into use in the Middle English bt 1000 AD and belongs to the plant cannabis sativa . However, the abaca is not the common hemp plant from cannabis sativa. "Hemp" has come to be used as a generic term for all long fibers. The word "hemp" is generic for plants that contain a fiber called "bast". The abaca is a hard fiber (referring to its stiffness) and is entirely different from the true hemp which is a soft fiber and is the product of Cannabis sativa.
5. IT'S EVERYWHERE
Open your wallet, assuming you have cash, then yes you have Abaca in your person. Paper used for most currency notes are partly abaca, obviously because of its tensile strength. Same for teabags, coffee filters, maps and even napkins and tissue papers. The cables and computer chips essential in your electronic gadgets have insulation materials made from this fiber as well. Because of the sheer tenacity of this material, it is integrated in many products for strengthening. We’ve come a long way indeed from using them on anchor ropes and footwear.