Manila hemp, the most important of the cordage fibers. It is obtained chiefly from the Manila hemp plant ( Musa textilis ) of the family Musaceae (banana family). It is grown mainly in its native Philippine Islands, where it has been cultivated since the 16th cent. and is known as abacá. The abacá is in no way related to the true hemp; it is of the same genus as the common banana, which it closely resembles except for the inedible fruit. At maturity the plants are cut down, and the long fibers are taken from overlapping leaves that converge at the base to form a false stem. The fibers are exceptionally strong and durable. The coarser ones are used for binder twine, matting, and rope, particularly marine cordage because of their resistance to the action of saltwater; the finer grades are woven into beautiful native fabrics and hemp hats. Manila paper is made chiefly from old Manila hemp ropes and is valuable as a strong wrapping paper. Manila hemp is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Zingiberales, family Musaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.