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Everglades 41 Kenaf

Everglades 41 Kenaf

Regular price $3.50 Sale

Hibiscus cannabinus
Origin: El Salvador via Florida
Improverment status: Cultivar 

Seeds per packet: ~50

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 (a food in India, known as gongura, 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.

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. (This is true for most varieties, but this one has nearly round leaves that look nothing like cannabis — and make this variety particularly promising as a food crop.) 

'Everglades 41' was released in the 1960s by the University of Florida and the USDA, selected from a now-lost accession from El Salvador. It is a relatively fast maturing (100 day) variety, considered good for mechanical harvest, with even-sized stalks and leaves that conveniently drop off when it dies. It's most likely to produce good seed in the South, but with a late frost it could produce seed in the north too (we plan to have some northern varieties available for sale next year).

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.

NOTE: We received this seed recently from Bob, and conducted our own in-house germination test, which was successful, and gave us complete confidence in selling this seed right now. However, we don't have a precise percentage for you.

GROWING TIPS: Kenaf is relatively easy to direct seed, and should germinate quickly. We usually start plants in the greenhouse and transplant after all danger of frost has passed. Kenaf likes it hot and won't really take off until the heat of the summer. Rows could be 3 feet apart, with plants 2-6 inches apart for fiber, or 1 to 3 feet apart for seeds and leaves.