Plants have provided humans with some of the most important tool-making materials since the dawn of man. Indeed, wood and other plant products are an absolute necessity when going about our daily lives. We often take for granted just how many tools and materials are derived from plants. Rope, historically made from plants, is one of those tools and has been used by humans for millennia.
Although much rope these days is synthetic, it’s still often made with organic plant fibers. Usually, these fibers are processed in machines and factories, but it’s entirely possible to create your own rope with plants that could be growing in your own backyard!
Some plants are better than others to make rope with. It all depends on the strength of the naturally occurring fibers that make up their stem. In any case, how would one make the rope to begin with? It can be a bit complicated to make the sturdiest rope possible, so we won’t worry too much about the construction. But if you’re curious to learn, here’s a nice tutorial on how to make cordage from natural fibers!
Which Part of the Plant Do You Use?
The strength of plant tissue is all in the fibers. Fibers can be found in pretty much every single part of a plant, but depending on the species, the strongest and longest fibers will be in different parts.
Bark – Tree bark is tough. It protects the plant from fire, disease, and insects. But, it’s usually not the best part of a plant to make rope! What you want is right underneath the bark. That inner layer of bark is much more fibrous and is the best part of many plants to make rope with.
Stem – Most herbaceous plants don’t have bark. But, their stems are still composed of fiber, and some of the best rope plants out there have incredibly strong stems you can harvest to make rope.
Grass – It’s possible to make strong rope out of grass, but it usually requires a much higher skill to weave small pieces of grass blades together. If strength isn’t too important, grass actually works quite well as a rope material.
Roots – In rare cases, the roots of a plant are what you should go for when constructing rope. Usually, though, roots aren’t all that strong and fibrous.
So, What is the Best Rope Plant?
OK, so we don’t actually have just one plant that is the best choice to make rope with. So, here are a few of the best candidates, and any one of them could make the argument of being the best rope plant.
Hemp (Cannabis sativa)
The hemp plant is actually a certain strain of Cannabis sativa that’s grown for its industrial use, rather than medical or recreational use its close relatives are known for. Perhaps the most famous aspect of the hemp plant is its ability to make strong fibers and rope. In fact, cordage made from the hemp plant has been used for hundreds of years, especially for use in sailing. The sails of ships have actually been made from hemp fibers, too. Right on!
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle is an excellent plant to make rope with. But, there is one little problem. The plant gets its name from the tiny, stinging hairs that cover both stem and leaf. This poses quite a challenge when attempting to harvest the herbaceous plant. Luckily, boiling the plant in water will neutralize the irritating oils and allow you to work with it care-free! Just make sure to let it dry before constructing the rope. The stems of stinging nettle are durable and flexible, allowing you to make a reasonably strong homemade rope.
Spruce (Picea spp.)
Spruce trees are common all throughout temperate regions of the world. To make rope with spruce trees, the money maker is actually below your feet. The roots of spruce trees are incredibly durable, even when split lengthwise into two, three, or four separate strands. Harvest the roots just a few centimeters below the ground, and there should be many different strands of varying sizes to choose from.
Yucca (Yucca spp.)
Yucca is a common plant in hot, dry climates of the Americas and the Caribbean. The long, spiky leaves of yucca are comprised of equally as long, not-as-spiky fibers that run the entire length of each leaf. After scraping off the green, fleshy part of a leaf, the fibers are easily worked with to create very strong cord, especially after being wound and twisted to make rope.
Eager to hear about more plant-crafting? Let us know in the comments!