02 Jun

Sida rhombifolia

(Sida is an ancient name for a different plant.  Rhombifolia describes the leaf shape.)

Malvaceae (Hibiscus Family)


Once upon a time, before the era of polyester leisure suits, natural fibers ruled, and Florida was a place to research and grow fiber-bearing species.    Fiber plant importation here predates the European invasion probably, as our “native” Florida agaves arrived it seems at the hand of prehistoric people no doubt to supply strings, hammocks, and fishing nets.    Florida’s first prominent Euro-horticulturist Dr. Henry Perrine introduced more agaves, most notably sisal, now an invasive exotic species.  Dr. Perrine perished by homicide before Florida fiber fun hits it prime.

Urena lobata 1

Caesarweed, a fiber species.   Today’s flower photos by John Bradford.

Fiber species are mainly tropical, and the Sunshine State was home to avid 19th and 20th Century plant introducers.    It is tough to cite the exact time, purpose, and unsub in a plant introduction, so to keep it general, let’s just say some species came to Florida as dental floss.   And, yes, fiber plants have served oral hygiene where there’s no Walgreens on every corner.

An incomplete list of fiber species still in Florida follows:

Bowstring-Hemp (Sansevierias, the “Snake Plants” in pots and gardens, breeders used to hybridize Sansevierias  in search of fabulous fibers)

Caesarweed (Urena lobata, now it sticks burrs on our shirts)

Flax (Linum usitatissimum, also giving seeds to muffins)

Hemp (same species as ganja)

Indian-Hemp (not really a hemp)

Jute (Corchorus species,  gunny sacks and upscale couture)

Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus, save the forest, farm paper)

Manila-Hemp (Musa textilis, a banana of all things)

Ramie (Boehmeria nivea, related to the native false nettle)

Sisal (Agave sisalana, and other Agave species)

Yucca (Yucca species)


This photo published 1893

There are more but lists are for losers, so to get to today’s hot topic:

Sida rhombifolia 1


Indian-Hemp is a classification mess, in a complex of variants you may or may not interpret as separate species.    Native to Florida?  Some say yes, but my favorite general reference, Flora North America, calls it an introduction from the Old World, and I’d not quibble.  Importation from India gave Indian-Hemp its name.  If you want to see Indian-Hemp in Florida, take a walk.  An encounter will likely ensue.


Indian-Hemp fibers

Every plant species has history in human medicine…it gets boring…but we have finally found the species applied by somebody somewhere to counter every known ailment, from alopecia to zits.  And for those itching to boil and gobble the world of green, be careful, today’s species reportedly causes abortion among other damages.   The species also induces vomiting, but contemporary politics is more effective for that.   All in all, Sidas are chock full of drugs and stuff, with one ingredient especially interesting…ephedrine.

The stimulant ephedrine crops up in human medications, legally and not so much.     By far the best- known botanical source is the genus Ephedra, very weird desert plants having seeds but no flowers, giving the “kick” in Mormon-Tea as well as to the Chinese beverage ma huang, not to mention diet pills, inhalers, and much more.  Ephedra is about as unrelated to Sida as possible, so what the heck is ephedrine doing in our backyard fiber weed?   In any case, smoking Indian-Hemp is a reported use…obviously a nitwit idea.  I wonder if ephedrine or similar alkaloids are behind that dangerous passtime.

To wrap it up with a curiosity, the fruit starts out looking like a pie.  And it winds up with the same fate, sliced into triangular segments, each acting like a separate fruit,  out of one, many.     Sometimes triangular  flower parts (sepals) wrap around the pie from below,  embracing the pie and holding its slices in place.   Although an obvious possibility, I can’t say for sure the embrace is a function of the weather. Today was rainy and gray, and the grip was tight, however.

Sida rhombifolia fruit wrapped in sepals

The fruit with the pie slices hidden by the triangular flaps bent up from below.

Sida rhombifolia fruit pir slices cooler tone

Protective flaps bent back, and the pie slices exposed.






Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Indian-Hemp

  1. theshrubqueen

    June 2, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    I knew of the Sisal Agave nearby, but not what India Hemp looked like. It is here and I have pulled mulititudes up. Haven’t smoked any! Not planning to. Should I try it for dental floss?

    • George Rogers

      June 2, 2017 at 8:53 pm

      Yes, you try first and tell me how it goes. Maybe ephedrine-charged dental floss could be marketed.

      • theshrubqueen

        June 2, 2017 at 9:07 pm

        Dental floss that clears the sinuses? that works for me. I have a feeling the problem would be getting it out of your teeth.

  2. leonorealaniz

    June 5, 2017 at 1:17 am

    Thanks for this account. My first vocation is weaving. This fiber-focused report makes me want to learn how to process the stalks of Indian Hemp, gleen fibers, experiment spinning and weaving with them. We lost a wealth of healthful textiles when we converted to synthetic fibers in our environement. What ever is left in museums and private collections gives testimony of a highly developed sense of beauty. Reg dental floss: I prefer synthetic, not knowing any better. Perhaps folks did use the long strong fibers of milk weed, waxed them with beeswax? Come to think, thats becoming a rarity as well….


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