Explaining barkcloth properties through plant anatomy - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew research repository
Skip to main content
Shared Research Repository
Master's dissertation

Explaining barkcloth properties through plant anatomy



Barkcloth, a material derived from the beaten inner bark of plants, is an ancient textile of widespread origins, recorded in Africa, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, especially the Polynesian Islands. An antiquated craft, the practice of making barkcloth is kept alive by the cultural and spiritual significance it retains in some places, as well as a small commercial demand for it. All barkcloths are manufactured from the bast fibres of a plant’s stem. Historically, separate and isolated cultures have developed barkcloth making independently of one another, using the same or different species, and often employing analogous techniques and technology. This indicates a common capacity for the currently known barkcloth species to be manufactured into barkcloth- a capacity likely influenced by their anatomy. In this investigation, it is suggested that these species share homology in their inner bark, and bear fibre arrangements distinct from species recorded exclusively for cordage or other fibre products, or those not recognised as fibre species. Transverse and longitudinal sections of the bark of raw and processed material of ten species were observed, from Moraceae, Malvaceae, Urticaceae and Thymelaeaceae. These species included well-documented barkcloth species, more obscure, historically ‘non-true’ barkcloth species, and ones used uniquely for other products (including cordage, bark strips and lacebark). References to the use of these species are included in a wider use report compilation of bast fibre species from past research and historical accounts. It is shown that fibres observed in barkcloth, string, lace, etc. occur exclusively in the inner bark of untreated stems of their source species, often distinctly closer to the cambium layer than the outer bark. Observations further indicate a lateral connectivity of fibres, through homogeneous arrangements, shared by the true barkcloth species (and lace-bark). Other species have lesser degrees of order and inferred fibre cohesion, with the cordage and bark strip species showing the least connectivity.


File nameDate UploadedVisibilityFile size
30 Apr 2020
8.49 MB