About the Kenaf Plant


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cannot run wild across the country like a weed, because in almost all parts of the U.S., kenaf seeds cannot mature.

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Kenaf is a 4,000 year old NEW crop with roots in ancient Africa.
A member of the hibiscus family (Hibiscus cannabinus L), it is related to cotton and okra, and grows well in many parts of the U.S. It offers a way to make paper without cutting trees. Kenaf grows quickly, rising to heights of 12-14 feet in as little as 4 to 5 months. U.S. Department of Agriculture studies show that kenaf yields of 6 to 10 tons of dry fiber per acre per year are generally 3 to 5 times greater than the yield for Southern pine trees, which can take from 7 to 40 years to reach harvestable size.  There are many different varieties of kenaf, and certain varieties will perform better in certain locations, or under certain conditions than other varieties. 

The different varieties of kenaf have different flowering schedules.  Some varieties flower earlier than others.  Generally, the flowering will last 3 to 4 weeks, or more, per plant, and each individual flower blooms for only one day.
The stalk of the kenaf plant consists of two distinct fiber types. The outer fiber is called "bast" and comprises roughly 40% of the stalk's dry weight. The refined bast fibers measure 2.6mm and are similar to the best softwood fibers used to make paper.
The whiter, inner fiber is called "core", and comprises 60% of the stalk's dry weight. These refined fibers measure .6mm and are comparable to hardwood tree fibers, which are used in a widening range of paper products.

Upon harvest, the whole kenaf plant can be processed in a mechanical fiber separator, similar to a cotton gin. The separation of the two fibers allows for independent processing and provides raw materials for a growing number of products including paper, particle board, animal bedding and bioremediation aids.  Vision Paper is focused on using the whole stalk of the kenaf plant in its pulping and papermaking, developing proprietary methods that provide cost competitive and technically superior fiber properties.

At the end of the growing season, the kenaf plant flowers. After blooming the flower drops off, leaving a seed pod behind. In most parts of the U.S. the seeds will not mature. While there are certain varieties of kenaf that flower early, the biomass production of those varieties is not substantial enough to provide fiber economically.  Because of their African origin they require an additional 60-90 days of frost free conditions to reach the point of germination. This means kenaf cannot run wild across the country like a weed. It also presents some interesting challenges for developers to insure a consistent supply of seed for next year's crop. Much research work is being done in the area of seed development, with leading edge companies like Vision Paper developing innovative and environmentally sound solutions.

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Updated: October 26, 2010 03:44 PM