Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/407

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THE PALM TREES OF BRAZIL.

pairs of leaflets, instead of developing as leaflets, turn gradually backward, thicken and stiffen at the base and thus form three or four pairs of hooks by which the plant is drawn slightly forward and supported by whatever other plant these hooks happen to seize.

Jacitára bears bunches of small nuts about the size of ordinary grapes, but, so far as I know, they are not utilized. The trunks are used in some parts of South America as withes for binding together the poles of which fences and some houses are built, and likewise for chair bottoms and baskets. When the jacitára grows in the deep dark PSM V60 D407 Piassaba frond with its fibres.pngFig. 15. A Piassába Frond with its Fibers. forests, its trunk reaches a great length. In the southern part of the State of Bahia it grows upon open prairies where it has to depend upon itself for support. Here it grows in thick clusters, and does not reach a length of more than ten or fifteen feet.

Palm Fibers.—One of the most useful products of palms is their fiber. In his excellent work on fiber-producing plants Mr. Dodge mentions fifty-six palms that yield valuable fibers.[1] Most of the fibers furnished by palms come from growths along the sides of the petioles near their bases, where they look like frazzled edges of burlap or some other coarse cloth. These fibers, however, are produced in quantity by certain species only.

The most remarkable of the fiber-producers is the piassába palm (Leopoldina) of which there are two species—one grows on the dark water tributaries of Rio Negro in the Amazon valley, the other grows not far from the seacoast north of the city of Bahia and also in the interior of the southern part of the State of Bahia and in Minas. At both places the piassába fiber is an important article of commerce, A palm draped with the fluffy mass of dark-brown fiber is a remarkable sight. The fibers are sometimes from ten to fifteen feet in length and look like very coarse hair or a tangled mass of brown twine, streaming down the trunk of the tree.

After being cut these fibers have to be dried and baled, they are then shipped to Europe and to the United States, where they are extensively used under the name of 'bast' for the manufacture of small baskets, stiff brushes, street brooms and foot-wipers. In the Amazonas valley they are used for making large cables which have the virtue of


  1. A Descriptive Catalogue of Useful Fiber Plants of the World.' By Chas. R. Dodge. Report 9, U. S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, 1897, p. 256.