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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/26

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tive information relating to all branches of the industry, in importing proper seed for experimental cultivation, and in directing experiments, either on its own account or in co-operation with State and even private interests. The testing of new labor-saving machinery has also come within its province.

The subject in its details will be better understood by considering the list of the more important commercial fibers known to our market. The list is not a long one, for it barely reaches a total of fifteen species. The fibers of the first rank are the spinning fibers—namely, cotton, flax, hemp, jute; of the second rank, or cordage fibers, Sisal, Manila, Sunn and Mauritius hemps, and New Zealand flax; and of the third rank, Tampico, or ixtle, African fiber or palmetto, coir or cocoanut, piassaba, Mexican whisk, raffia, and Spanish moss, which are used in brush manufacture, in upholstery, and for other rough manufactures. Of these fifteen forms, only cotton, hemp, palmetto, and Spanish moss are produced in the United States in commercial quantity, though flax line has been produced to some extent in the past. Of those not produced in commercial quantity in this country, but which would thrive in cultivation, may be mentioned jute, New Zealand flax, Sisal hemp, cocoanut, and possibly Sunn hemp in subtropical Florida, with a few "substitutes," which will be mentioned hereafter.

I have neglected to mention in this list the sponge cucumber, a species of Luffa used as a bath sponge, which is imported from Japan in quantity, and which grows in the United States.

Passing the list of recognized commercial fibers, we come to a large number of species, forms allied to the above, that are either employed locally, chiefly by the natives in the countries where grown, or that would be capable of employment in the world's manufacture were they not inferior to the standard commercial forms at present recognized, and with which they would necessarily compete at a disadvantage. This list is a long one, for in the single genus Agave, to which belong the plant producing the Sisal hemp of commerce, there are over one hundred species in Mexico alone, more than one half of which would produce good fiber. In our own country it would be possible to enumerate twenty species of plants that are recognized as American weeds, the fibers of which could be employed as hemp, flax, or jute substitutes were these materials unobtainable, besides half as many structural fiber plants similar to the agave, the products of which could be employed as cordage fiber substitutes in the same manner. Many of these uncultivated plants have been known to the aborigines for years, possibly for centuries, as we find their fiber, produced in varied forms of rude manufacture, in ancient tombs or other burial places.