Chennai, India — Plant fibers have been used for making paper and clothing for a long time and the need for use of natural fibres has increased greatly. Among natural fibres 90 per cent are of vegetable origin and among them 80 per cent is constituted by cotton and the remaining by other long vegetable fibres like flax, jute, hemp, sisal, ramie, coir, abaca and pineapple fibres. They are classified as minor fibres.
Among the minor fibres, leaf fibres (fibres extracted from leaves) are one of the important unconventional fibres, which could be analysed and evaluated for their use in textile and paper industries. Their use is based on the length and width of fibres besides their wall thickness and cell wall composition.
The structural organisation and the ligno-cellulosic nature of the fibres directly affect the physico-mechanical properties like flexural rigidity, fineness, breaking length, density and dyeing capacity which in turn determine their use. The physico-mechanical properties could be modified by chemical treatment with alkali. The change is due to crystallisation of cellulose. The cellulose I changes to cellulose II. The fibres become more flexible and in turn beneficial to process them into yarns.
In a recent investigation leaves of 14 species comprising of Agave spp., Sansevieria spp, Furcraea spp, Ananas sativus and Pandanus sppwere used as source materials collected from germplasm maintained by the Department of Forestry, Government of Tamil Nadu. Microbial retting of the leaves in water was found to be the easiest and cheapest method of extraction of fibres.
Based on this study employing micro-morphological, chemical and physico-mechanical characteristics and dyeing properties of leaf fibres it is recommended that Agave sisalana and Furcraea spp could be utilised in paper industry and Sansevieria trifaciata and Ananas sativus (pine apple) leaf fibres in textile industry after blending with cotton/jute.
Agave spp. Sansevieria trifaciatacould be easily cultivated in waste lands at a low cost. Pine apple leaf fibres could be extracted after the fruit is harvested and serve a dual function as a fruit and fibre crop.
KCS Kasi Nadar College of Arts and Science Chennai
Department of Botany
Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai
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