Definition of Hemp

Common name for an Asian annual herb (Cannabis), and also for its strong, pliable fibers. This species is often called true hemp or Indian hemp. It is cultivated in Eurasia, the United States, and Chile. A hemp plant may be as small as 91 cm (36 in) or as tall as 5 m (15 ft), depending upon the climate and soil type. There are two cultivated strains: the one commonly grown in the north is grown principally for fiber, the one grown mainly in southern regions is grown as a drug plant. Hemp stems are hollow and have a fibrous inner bark. The fibers from this bark are used to make a great variety of textile products, including coarse fabrics, ropes, sailcloth, and packing cloth. Soft fibers, used for making clothing fabrics in Asia, are obtained from hemp harvested at the time of pollination; strong, coarse fibers are obtained from mature plants. The fibers are removed and processed by methods similar to those used in processing flax. Partly decomposed, the stalks are dried, broken, and shaken to separate the woody stalks from the fibers. The fiber is dark tan or brown and is difficult to bleach, but it can be dyed bright and dark colors. The hemp fibers vary widely in length, depending upon their ultimate use. Industrial fibers may be several inches long, while fibers used for domestic textiles are about 3/4 inch to 1 inch (1.9 to 2.54 cm) long. The elongation (1 to 6 percent) is low and its elasticity poor. The thermal reactions of hemp and the effect of sunlight are the same as for cotton. Hemp is moth resistant, but it is not impervious to mildew. Coarse hemp fibers and yarns are woven into cordage, rope, sacking and heavy-duty tarpaulins. In Italy, fine hemp fibers are used for interior design and apparel fabrics.

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