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MANILA, or Manila Hemp, the fibre of musa textilis, a native of the Philippine islands, and of the same genus with the banana and plantain. The tree, known in the islands by the native name of abaca, has a similar habit of growth to the banana and other musas; the stem proper is small, and is surrounded by the broad sheathing petioles of the leaves, together making a kind of false stem, which in the abaca is 15 or 20 ft. high; the leaves are dark green, and resemble those of the banana; the fruit is small and triangular, resembling an abortive banana, and full of black seeds; the plant is readily multiplied by seeds and by suckers, and propagates itself so freely as to take complete possession of the land. When the stems are about to flower they are cut down, and split longitudinally in four pieces; the petioles, which are the portion furnishing the fibre, are then pulled off, the outer ones, which furnish the coarsest and strongest fibre, being kept separate from the inner; those which grow near the centre are rejected, as their fibres are not strong enough to be useful. To separate the fibre, the petioles are thoroughly beaten with wooden clubs, by which much of the adhering tissue is loosened; and the separation is further effected by the use of a coarse hackle, after which the fibres are frequently washed, and when freed of all extraneous matter they are hung upon poles or ropes to dry. The fibres are coarser or finer as they are from the outer or inner petioles, and they are carefully assorted, the coarsest being for cordage and the finer for weaving. As a material for ropes and other cordage its great tenacity and durability make it highly valuable, and large quantities are used for this purpose. From the finer fibres the inhabitants of the islands weave tissues of great delicacy; the fibres are not spun, but used in their natural state; those of a proper size being selected, the single fibres, which are about 15 ft. long, are tied together at their ends, and wound into a ball, soaked in hot water, and dried, when they are ready for weaving. Tissues woven from the abaca fibre are almost transparent, somewhat rigid, light, and cool to the touch ; muslins, veils, napkins, &c., are made from it, and it is even woven into shirts and other articles of apparel; the material readily takes dyes of all colors. Large quantities of paper are made in whole or in part from manila, usually in the form of worn-out rope; it possesses great toughness in proportion to its weight.

AmCyc Manila Hemp.jpg

Manila Hemp Tree (Musa textilis).