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Ramie (boehmeria nivea), commonly known as China grass, white ramie or rhea, is one of the gorup reffered to as the bast fiber crops. It is a hardy perennial belonging to the Urticaceae or Nettle family, which can be harvested up to 6 times a year. It produces a large number of unbranched stems from underground rhizomes and has a crop life from 6 to 20 years. The bark contains gums and pectins causing the fibers to be useable only after chemical treatment. It is believed to have originated in the Malay Peninsula.


Ramie field in China


Ramie is one of the oldest textile fibers. It was used in mummy cloths in Egypt during the period 5000 - 3000 BC, and has been grown in China for many centuries. The main producers of ramie today are China, Brazil, Philippines, India, South Korea and Thailand. Only a small percentage of the ramie produced is available on the international market. Japan, Germany, France and the UK are the main importers, the remaining supply is used domestically (in the country in which it is produced).


Ramie fiber is very durable, is pure white in colour and has a silky luster. It is reported to have a tensile strength eight times that of cotton and seven times greater than silk. However, other reports claim that the tensile strengths of cotton, flax, hemp and ramie are similar. These discrepancies can be partly attributed to the effects of source of supply, method of processing, the test conditions, temperature and humidity, on the fiber strength. The stems of ramie grow to a height of 1 - 2.5 meters.


The most suitable climate for ramie is one which is warm and humid, with an annual rainfall of at least 1000 mm.Well established plants can tolerate drought and frost, but grow better without. As ramie productivity is high it can rapidly deplete the soil of nutrients.

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