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Kenaf and Hemp Identifying the Differences
Thomas A. Rymsza Introduction
It has been reported that The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill Of Rights, and or the Articles of Confederation were written and or drafted on hemp paper. (1) All of these historic documents are written on parchment, made from animal skin, according to the National Archives.(2) This type of reporting error is indicative of the confusion that exists regarding hemp as nonwood fiber source for paper production. This paper will discuss hemp and kenaf from a papermaking perspective, and identify some of the differences.
Kenaf is a Hibiscus (Hibiscus cannabinus L.), which is part of the Malvaceae (Mallow) family. It is related to cotton, okra and the state flower of Hawaii. Hemp is Cannabis (Cannabis sativa), the same plant as marijuana and classified as a member of the Moraceae family (Mulberry). Thus, kenaf and hemp are not related to each other.
Both plants are fast growing annual fiber sources. They are both dicotyledons, which means their stalks have an outer bast fiber and an inner core fiber. Both crops have roughly the same type of agricultural requirements, including a nitrogen requirement (hemp is not a nitrogen fixer, as has been sometimes reported).(3) Both crops can be grown over a broad geographic range. They are both being touted as alternative crops that can help farmers and the environment. But it seems there are as many differences as there are similarities.
Hemp seeds are almost round, with a smooth surface, and a seam around the circumference. They are brown and tan speckled in color, and about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch long.(4,5) Kenaf seeds are grayish brown 1/4" long, and semi-pyramided in shape, described in one article as "resembling a tiny sharks tooth."(5) (See Illustration 1.)
Kenaf stalks are generally round, and depending on variety, thorns on the stalks range from quite tiny, to as large as on a blackberry bush. (6) The kenaf stem contains two types of fiber, one comprising long fibers situated in the cortical layer, and another containing short fibers located in the ligneous zone. The central area, corresponding to pith, consists of sponge-like tissue.
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