The New International Encyclopædia/Bœhmeria

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BŒHME'RIA (after the German naturalist Böhmer). A genus of plants of the natural order Urticaceæ. The fibres of a number of species are used for making ropes, twine, nets, sewing-thread, and cloth, and some of them appear likely to acquire much economical and commercial importance. The commercially important species now known are Bœhmeria nivea and Bœhmeria tenacissima, the latter being often considered as merely a variety of the former. Bœhmeria nivea grows in temperate and sub-tropical regions, while the variety flourishes in sub-tropical and tropical countries. It yields a great part of the fibre employed in China in the manufacture of the beautiful fabric known as China-grass cloth (q.v.). It is a perennial herbaceous plant, with broad ovate leaves, which are white and downy beneath, and is of the general habit though destitute of the stinging powers of the nettles. It is carefully cultivated by the Chinese, by whom it is called tehon ma. It is propagated either by seeds or by parting the roots. It loves shade and moisture. Three crops are obtained in the season, new shoots springing up after it has been cut. Great attention is bestowed upon the preparation of the fibre. This is extracted by hand stripping, by boiling the stalks in water or some chemical solution, or by machinery. Machine methods have so far not met with unqualified success. On the other hand, the first-named two ways of extracting the fibre are more or less intricate and involve a large amount of hand-labor. As a consequence, the bulk of the fibre is produced in China and India, where cheap labor is plentiful. To Bœhmeria nivea properly belongs the name China grass; ramie or rhea should be retained for the plant which Dr. Roxburgh strongly recommended to attention about the beginning of the Nineteenth Century under the name of Urtica tenacissima (see Ramie). An allied species, Villebrunnea integrifolia, is common in Nepal, Sikkim, and other parts of the Himalaya, to an elevation of 3000 feet above the sea. It is not cultivated, but often overruns abandoned fields. It grows to a height of 6 or 8 feet, and varies from the thickness of a quill to that of the thumb. The plant is cut down for use when the seed is formed, the bark is then peeled off, dried in the sun for a few days, boiled with wood-ashes for four or five hours, and beaten with a mallet to separate the fibres, which are called pooah or poee, and also kienki or yenki. When properly prepared, the fibre is quite equal to the best European flax. The fibres of a number of coarser species are employed in different parts of the East Indies for making ropes. The cultivation of Bœhmeria nivea has been introduced into the southern part of the United States, and with the invention of satisfactory methods of decortication and degumming it will doubtless prove an important industry. Bœhmeria cylindrica is indigenous in the United States, occurring as an annual in waste places from Canada to Florida and westward. See Royle, Fibrous Plants of India (London, 1865); Dodge, Descriptive Catalogue of Useful Fibre Plants (Washington, 1897).