Wednesday, June 14, 2006
1782 ACCOUNT OF CHINESE HEMP SEED GROWN IN THE UK
Portion of a letter written by Keane Fitzgerald, Esquire to Sir Joseph Banks:
A few grains of Chinese hemp-seed had been given to me by the late Mr. Elliot, brother to General Elliot, who had formerly resided for some time in China. He told me, the hemp in that country was deemed superior to that of any other, both for fineness and strength, and wished I would try whether it would come to maturity in this kingdom. He gave me between thirty and forty grains of seed for the purpose, which I laid by, as I thought, carefully, with intent of sowing them the spring following, which is the usual time of sowing hemp in this country; but I had unluckily forgotten where I laid them, and did not find them till the beginning of last June, by which time I imagined them to be very unfit for vegetaion; but as I concluded they would be still no more so by keeping them till the succeeding April, I had them sowed them the 4th day of that month, and was much surprised to find that thirty-two of the seeds had vegetated strongly, and grown to an amazing size, several of the plants measuring in height more than fourteen feet, and seven inches nearly in circumference, by the middle of October following, at which time they came into bloom. There were from thirty to forty lateral branches on a plant; these were set off in pairs, one on each side of the stem pointing horizontally; the others at about five or six inches distance from them, pointing in different directions, and so on to the top, the bottom branches of some measuring more than five feet, the others decreasing gradually in length towards the top, so as to form a beautiful cone when in flower, which were unluckily nipped by a few nights frost that happened to be pretty sharp towards the end of the month; and the plants began to droop at the end beginning of November at which time IU had them pulled up by the roots.
As I was but little acquainted either with the cultivation of the seed, or preparing the plants afterwards for the production of hemp, and as these plants were very different in their size from any I had ever seen, the best method that occurred to me was, that of steeping them in water, where I let them remain for a fortnight, and then placed them in an upright position against a south wall to dry and bleach.
On trying whether the hemp could be easily seperated from the woody part, I was agreeably surprised to find, that on peeling a few inches longitudinally from the root, the whole rind, from the bottom to the top, not only of the stem but also of all the lateral branches, stripped off cleanly, without breaking any of them. The toughness of the hemp seemed extraordinary, and upon drying and beating divides into an infinity of tough fibres. The plants when stripped are quite white, and when the lateral branches are cut off, appear like handsome young poles...