An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Kenaf, HIBISCUS CANNABINUS

from the December 5, 2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
KENAF THE WONDER PLANT

About 10 kms north of Pisté, on the south side of the little Maya village of Xokempiich, something came up I'd not seen elsewhere: A much-branched, herbaceous bush about ten feet tall (3 m) with stiff stems and palmately compound leaves looking a lot like those of Marihuana plants, but with large, deep-burgundy, hibiscus-type flowers. You can see the whole thing above.

A side view of a five-inch-across blossom (13 cm) is shown below:

Kenaf, HIBISCUS CANNABINUS, flower

A view inside the blossom showing typical hibiscus-flower anatomy -- stamens with filament bases uniting into a cylindrical staminal column surrounding the slender style, the style topped by five spreading style-branches, each tipped with a fuzzy stigma -- is below:

Kenaf, HIBISCUS CANNABINUS, staminal column

After pollination, the corollas fall off leaving behind ovaries which mature into nearly spherical fruits enveloped by stiff, bristly sepals, as seen below:

Kenaf, HIBISCUS CANNABINUS

Most of the world knows this plant, probably native to southern Asia, as Kenaf, which is a Persian name. Among its English names are Brown Hibiscus, Hemp Hibiscus, Bimli, Ambary and Deccan Hemp. It's HIBISCUS CANNABINUS, an old Linnaeus name, so even Linnaeus thought that vegetatively it looks like Marijuana/ Cannabis. By the way, vegetatively it also looks like the Okra plant. While Kenaf isn't related to Marijuana, it turns out that Okra is indeed a close cousin. The most common Kenaf cultivar appears to be white-flowered, but other colors, such as our burgundy one, are planted.

Once again we've stumbled onto a plant I've never heard of but, once the name was known, Googling the name revealed that I'd found a famous, very important species. If you want to see a web page effusively enthusiastic about Kenaf ("Kenaf... enables the papermaker to stop using Old Growth Forest trees for paper pulp" and "Kenaf -- The Fiber That Can Change The World!") go to http://www.solarentrep.com/kenaf_home.htm.

On that page you'll see that Kenaf's fiber makes good paper, rope, carpet backing and burlap. Silage made with it for livestock consumption has a high protein rating, ranging from 16 to 23%.

At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenaf the Wikipedia page for Kenaf says that Kenaf seeds yield oil that can be used for cooking, cosmetics, biofuel and lubrication.