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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Triplett, Barbara

Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Seeds: Science, Technology and Uses
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/30/2003
Publication Date: 6/1/2006
Citation: Triplett, B.A. 2006. Fibres. Encyclopedia of Seeds: Science, Technology and Uses. In Bewley, J.D., Black, M., Halmer, P. editors. The Encyclopedia of Seeds. Science, Technology and Uses. Oxford, UK.: Oxford University Press. pp. 1000.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Seed fibres are among the most useful of the plant-derived fibres. Whether originating from the seed epidermis (cotton and milkweed), the inner layer of the pod (kapok), or the thick seed-covering (coconut), plant fibres are flexible materials characterized by being substantially longer than their cross-sectional area. Cotton, kapok, and milkweed are unicellular and represent some of the longest plant cells known. Coir from coconut husk is multicellular with individual cells held together by pectins and hemicelluloses. The principal components of plant fibres are cellulose and varying amounts of lignin (Table 1). In the plant, these two biopolymers simultaneously provide strength and flexibility to the plant cell wall. As processed fibres, the cellulose and lignin contents are very important in determining how the fibres can be utilized. Seed and fruit fibres are used in the production of clothing and domestic products, paper, composite materials, non-woven products, brushes, and batting or stuffing. Natural fibres from plant sources have mechanical properties that are similar to man-made fibres (Table 2). In general, seed and fruit fibres are lighter, less expensive, biodegradable, and easily renewable compared to synthetic fibres. Among the disadvantages of plant fibres is that they usually have a large variation in physical properties including length and are sensitive to moisture absorption. With the exception of coir, seed fibres probably evolved to aid in wind dispersal. After domestication and selection by humans over thousands of years, plants such as cotton produce many more seed trichomes than are found on the seeds of wild species. Today, cotton has the largest production volume among the seed fibres. In addition to cotton, kapok, milkweed, and coir, there are several other seed fibres that are used in localized regions of the world (Table 3). See: cellulose, coir, cotton, kapok, lignin, milkweed.

Last Modified: 06/22/2017
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