Jute is known as the ‘Golden Fiber’ due to its golden brown color and its importance. In terms of usage, production and global consumption, jute is second only to cotton. It is the fiber used to make hessian sacks and garden twine. Jute is environmentally friendly as well as being one of the most affordable fibers; jute plants are easy to grow, have a high yield per acre and, unlike cotton, have little need for pesticides and fertilizers. Jute is a bast fiber, like flax and hemp, and the stems are processed in a similar way.
Jute is an annual crop grown mainly 80% in Bangladesh in the fertile Ganges Delta. It is classified in the lime tree family (Tiliaceae) by Kew Royal Botanic Gardens but jute has sometimes been placed in Malvaceae with cotton or more recently in Sparrmanniaceae.
Jute fibers are very long (1 to 4 metres), silky, lustrous and golden brown in color. In contrast to most textile fibers which consist mainly of cellulose, jute fibers are part cellulose, part lignin. Cellulose is a major component of plant fibers while lignin is a major component of wood fiber; jute is therefore partly a textile fiber and partly wood. Jute fiber has strength, low cost, durability and versatility.
Jute is used where low cost is more important than durability, for example in coffee sacks and cotton bale covers. You are probably familiar with jute as twine used to tie garden plants, and as hessian fabric (or burlap in the US). Jute is used in shopping bags, carpets and rugs, backing for linoleum floor covering, chair coverings and environmentally friendly coffins.
Jute is also useful as a geotextile fabric laid over soil to stabilize it against landslides and to control erosion or weeds. The fabric helps to keep the moisture in and holds the soil in place, whilst the open weave structure of the fabric allows space for plants to grow. As the plants get established, the jute fabric starts to biodegrade. This fabric is also used to wrap plant root balls, as it allows water and air to reach the roots.
Experimental use of jute fiber in commercial papermaking has proved moderately successful and may eventually supplement pine and spruce as papermaking fibers.
This is a fiber crop that you will not be able to grow in European back gardens as jute needs tropical rainfall, warm weather and high humidity. Unlike cotton, it has little need for pesticides or fertilizers. Jute is planted close together so that the plants grow tall and straight.
Jute is ready to harvest in four to six months, after the flowers are shed. The plant stems are then about 2.5 to 3.5 meters tall and as thick as a finger. Jute fields may be under water at the time of harvest and the workers often need to wade in the water to cut the stems at ground level or to uproot the plants. The stems are then tied into bundles.
On average, jute yields four times more fiber per acre than flax. The fibers lie beneath the bark around the woody core or ‘hurd’. To extract the fiber, the jute bundles are submersed in water and left for a few days until the fibers come loose and are ready for stripping from the stalk, then washed and dried.
Jute has a low carbon footprint, it is biodegradable, feeds the soil and all parts of the plant can be used.
- Good for the air
- Good for the soil
- Source of wood pulp