Natural Fibre Rope
Natural cordage display.
Species shown include: Birch; Cat-tail; Cedar; Sisal; Hide; Willow; Goldenrod; Dogbane; Milkweed; Primrose; Cedar/Bullrush; Bullrush
On this page, I will briefly disscuss natural fibre cordage. I do not intend to offer step by step instructions. Also included are a few photographs of good cordage plants.
In lower Ontario, we are spoiled with an abundance of cordage plants. Where I live, I can go outside my door and throw a snowball and be within range of around 6 excellent cordage plants. If I travelled 200 metres there would be more. Natural fibres are also strong! For example, a spiders silk is stronger than steel of the same diametre. Some plant fibre cordage of small diametres can be very difficult to break. Cedar cordage may be lit to smolder like an inscence and insect repeller. Natural fibre cordage used on the bow, of a bow and drill fire method, does not slip like it’s petrol-chemical counter parts. Moreover, these natural fibres readily compost once abandoned–unlilke the synthetic ones.
All plants have fibres. Some are better than others and each have unique characteristics. In general, plant fibres can be collected from small plants, shrubs, and even trees. With the plants that sprout and die every year, the usable fibre is located on the walls of the stem and branches. With shrubs and trees, the fibre is located on the inner bark. Ideally, you do not want to collect fibre from alive plants or trees. In some cases, such fibre will work but generally it is not suitable.
The fibres need to be retted prior to use. Retting is sort of like rotting, which starts by releasing the long fibres from surrounding materials. Retting is done by soaking the fibres in water or by leaving them on the ground in the shade. How long does retting take? In my experience, retting has taken anywhere from one hour to two weeks depending on the plant. Different stages of of this process offer different types of fibre properties and uses. Generally, the longer it rets the softer and weaker the cordage. Conversely, shorted periods of retting produce less flexible but sosmetimes stronger cordage (especially noticable in tree barks).
Try to utilize seasonal plants only after they have released their seeds (fulfilling their biological potential). With trees, harvest recently deceased individuals to limit your impact and to attain fibres that have begun to naturally ret. Be aware that if a tree bark has been laying on the ground or dead for a long period it may be riddled with insects (burrowing through fibres) or too rotten. I suggest you experiment with various plants–you can test possible cordage plants by testing each fibre individually for strength.
Photographs of a few strong cordage plants.
CAUTION: before you handle these plants or others, positively identify and research each and be aware of the poisonous ones. For instance, thistles, burrdock, and nettles can cause skin irritaion and the milky sap of dogbane, milkweed and others are poisonous to consume–wash your hands after use and consider using gloves while gathering.