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Esparto Grass
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Macrochloa or Stipa
Species: M. tenacissima
Binomial name
Macrochloa tenacissima
(L.) Kunth.

Stipa tenacissima

Esparto, or esparto grass, also known as "halfah (alpha/alfa) grass" or "needle grass", Macrochloa tenacissima and Stipa tenacissima, is a perennial grass grown in northwest Africa and the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula employed for crafts (cords, baskets, espadrilles, etc.).

Woven esparto.

Esparto paper

It is also used for fiber production for paper making. The fiber makes a high quality paper often used in book manufacturing. First used in Great Britain in 1850, it has been extensively used there and in Europe, but is rarely found in the United States because of the cost of transport. It is usually combined with five to ten percent wood pulp.

The "Spanish" grade is usually regarded as the higher-quality, while the "Tripoli" grade, from Africa, is the lesser in quality. The fibers are fairly short in relation to their length, yet do not create any significant amount of dust. Because of the short fiber length, the tensile strength of the paper is less than that of many other papers, but its resistance to shrinkage and stretching is superior, and the paper is a well-filled, dense paper with excellent inking qualities. It also has very good folding properties.

Lygeum spartum, a broadleaf perennial in the family Gramineae , is also used in combination, and is also sometimes called esparto grass or albardine.

Some manufacturers of rolling paper may use esparto, which might lead to a slightly higher carcinogen level when burnedRef.

Related terms

  • Espartinas, a town in the province of Seville, Spain
  • The family name Espartero means "esparto worker or seller".
  • Atocha is another Spanish word for "esparto".

External links

Esparto ready for crafts

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ESPARTO, or Spanish Grass, Stipa tenacissima, a grass resembling the ornamental feather-grass of gardens. It is indigenous to the south of Spain and the north of Africa (where it is known as Halfa or Alfa), and is especially abundant in the sterile and rugged parts of Murcia and Valencia, and in Algeria, flourishing best in sandy, ferruginous soils, in dry, sunny situations on the sea coast. Pliny (N.H. xix. 2) described what appears to have been the same plant under the name of spartum, whence the designation campus spartarius for the region surrounding New Carthage. It attains a height of 3 or 4 ft. The stems are cylindrical, and clothed with short hair, and grow in clusters of from 2 to 10 ft. in circumference; when young they serve as food for cattle, but after a 'few years' growth acquire great toughness of texture. The leaves vary from 6 in. to 3 ft. in length, and are grey-green in colour; on account of their tenacity of fibre and flexibility they have for centuries been employed for the making of ropes, sandals, baskets, mats and other articles. Ships' cables of esparto, being light, have the quality of floating on water, and have long been in use in the Spanish navy.

Esparto leaves contain 56% by weight of fibre, or about ro % more than straw, and hence have come into requisition as a substitute for linen rags in the manufacture of paper. For this purpose they were first utilized by the French, and in 1857 were introduced into Great Britain. When required for paper making the leaves should be gathered before they are quite matured; if, however, they are obtained too young, they furnish a paper having an objectionable semi-transparent appearance. The leaves are gathered by hand, and from 2 to 3 cwt. may be collected in a day by a single labourer. They are generally obtained during the dry summer months, as at other times their adherence to the stems is so firm as often to cause the uprooting of the plants in the attempt to remove them. Esparto may be raised from seed, but cannot be harvested for twelve or fifteen years after sowing.

Another grass, Lygeum Spartum, with stiff rush-like leaves, growing in rocky soil on the high plains of countries bordering on the Mediterranean, especially of Spain and Algeria, is also a source of esparto.

For the processes of the paper manufacturer esparto is used in the dry state, and without cutting; roots and flowers and stray weeds are first removed, and the material is then boiled with caustic soda, washed, and bleached with chlorine solution. Sundry experiments have been made to adapt esparto for use in the coarser textile fabrics. Messrs A. Edger and B. Proctor in 1877 directed attention to the composition of the slag resulting from the burning of esparto, which they found to be strikingly similar to that of average medical bottle glass, the latter yielding on analysis 66.3% of silica and 25.1% of alkalies and alkaline. earths, and the slag 64.6 and 2 7.45% of the same respectively.

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