Minghong 8234 Kenaf
Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~50
Germination tested 11/2020: 65%
Life cycle: Annual
Kenaf is among the oldest domesticated crops in the world, known in cultivation since at least 4000 years ago. It is believed to originate in Africa (possibly in Sudan), but there's still a great deal of debate about its origins. It was used in ancient Egypt and eventually became so popular around the world that there are over 100 known words for it. Its primary use has probably always been as a fiber crop for cordage, but it also has edible leaves (in India, where it's known as gongura, it's especially popular as the base for a hot pickled condiment) and oil-rich edible seeds. The dried stalks have long been used as a fuel source, like firewood, and it is now being used to make various building materials, including "engineered wood," fiber boards, insulation, and even plastic substitutes (it is being used to make components of automobiles at present). Much like its doppelganger hemp, this species has myriad uses.
Perhaps most excitingly, this hibiscus species beat out hundreds of other plants in a USDA study seeking to identify the best alternatives to pine pulp for making newsprint paper. Kenaf won because it makes very fine paper, and with less energy than wood pulp requires. It was recently used in Japan to make the world's thinnest paper. It's superior to pine in every way — producing more pulp per acre, in a single season instead of over many years, even on degraded land, with little fertilizer and no pesticides needed, while becoming higher quality paper too — except that we don't have any kenaf processing infrastructure in place and not enough farmers grow it to justify building such infrastructure.
This is a plant worthy of serious investment. In the face of climate change, its use as an alternative to clear-cutting forests should make it a prime candidate for government intervention. Wouldn't it be great if we subsidized regeneratively-grown kenaf (etc.) instead of GMO corn and soy?
Kenaf is very easy to grow. But as its Latin name indicates, it can be a dead-ringer for cannabis, at least until its big, beautiful, classic-hibiscus flowers unfurl.
'Minghong 8234' was developed in China in the 1990s from a cross between the varieties "Fuhong-9,10' and 'Minghong-94'. It is considered an excellent fiber variety noted for high yields, tolerance of stress, and wide adaptability. It is photoperiod insensitive, meaning it does not rely on day-length to trigger flowering. It is also a relatively early ripener, maturing in as little as 90 days, so it has more potential for cultivation in northern climates than the 'Everglades 41' variety we've previously offered.
In the spirit of experimentation, we hope growers across the country will try growing this once-and-future crop of great importance. We are particularly curious to learn how far north this variety will set seed, so please get in touch and let us know how it does for you!
Our seed comes from Bob Lawrason of Kenaf Partners USA.