Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Toxic plant suit cool in the tropics


I've posted before on the poisonous properties of this tree but not on its contribution to farming apparel. Here is a suit fashioned from the bark of Antiaris toxicaria, an outfit I gather worn (traditionally) by field workers in the tropical Xishuangbanna Prefecture, in the far south-west of China.

This display was part of a touring exhibition at Nanshan Botanical Garden in Chongqing, curated and supplied by Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. The Director of Xishuangbanna, Professor Chen Jin, told me that pants and shirts made from the bark of Antiaris toxicaria are both cooling and comfortable.

It set me wondering what other clothes are made from plants. Cotton of course, the fluff from a Gossypium fruit. Us hipsters probably have a bambooflax (linen) or hemp shirt - or pair of socks - in the (distressed) wardrobe. Pretty much anything with fibres can and has been used, from pineapples (piƱa) to a mallow called Corchorus (jute).

Then there is rayon, which is a factory product but made from cellulose primarily sourced from the wood of trees.

I'm sure there are lots of other plants worn as clothing. I know leaves and bark form part of the ceremonial dress for various cultures around the world. The shoes, and all the other stuff in this next picture, are made from fungal threads (while fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants, we like to consider them honorary parts of a botanic garden). This display is in the foyer of the excellent Micropia museum in Amsterdam. 


There is seaweed of course. There is always a seaweed or another alga ready to solve the world's problems and kelp is as good a source of fibre as any land 'plant'. And to fit in with this post, let me point you to a 2010 article about seaweed clothes made in China.

Or if you prefer to knit your own, here is a wool-seaweed fibre blend. I do not in any way endorse the health or otherwise giving properties of this product, but you can find out all about 'seacell' here (and thanks to Vicki Kate Makes for the photograph below).


Are there any other plant(or algae)-sourced clothes as toxic as the suit from Xishuangbanna? Well you can make cloth from the fibres of nettle plants. It's called ramie. But then you can also eat nettles, if you cook them first (and in any case, the hairs on the nettle used - various species of Boehmeria - are not of the stinging kind).

I wouldn't eat anything made from the Antiaris toicaria tree but you might feel and look cool if your shirt is made from its bark.

2 comments:

india flint said...

the leaves of stinging nettles (urticaria sp), gathered with care because they DO bite
are delicious when mixed in with the hot potatoes as you make gnocchi.
and the fibre is also used in cloth...softer than ramie, I believe.

Tim Entwisle said...

Ah, the vegetable use I knew about but not the cloth fibre. It's curious the plants we choose to wear!