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The Qi Min Yao Shu (“Essential arts for the people”), the first Chinese scientific treatise, written in the sixth century A.D., states:
“If we pull out the male hemp before it scatters pollen, the female plant cannot make seed. Otherwise, the female plant’s seed production will be influenced by the male plant’s scattering pollen during this period of time. The fibre of the male plant is the best.”
This quotation, apart from preceding any mention in Western sources by 1,000 years as regards the dioecious nature of the Cannabis species, also highlights the best moment to harvest it.
For any variety the timing of harvesting effectively determines the fibre’s textile properties and quality, given equal retting processes. From the textile standpoint, bast obtained from monoecious varieties is lower in quality than that of dioecious varieties when both are harvested at the optimum time, that is, at the end of the flowering stage for male plants.
Studies have been conducted to evaluate the qualitative differences between bast produced by male and female dioecious varieties and monoecious varieties  (see table 3). These clearly demonstrated that bast from dioecious plants is considerably better and, furthermore, that the best bast is obtained from male plants.
As mentioned previously, one process used to obtain hemp textile fibre is by retting the stems after harvesting. There is, however, an alternative process–known as scutching–that can be employed to transform green hemp stems directly into fibres . Considering yield, one hectare of hemp provides 8-14 tons of retted material, whereas some 24 tons of green scutched product can be obtained, although the latter process is technically much more complex. While scutching clearly offers economic benefits in terms of yield, the two processes also lead to fibres with very different properties, above all in terms of spinning.
The excessive length of fibres obtained by scutching may be one of the causes of its poor spinning properties. A further problem is the separation of fibre fascia. In the absence of retting, pectic and resinous substances remain and bind the primary fibres more tenaciously. Chemical or mechanical processes can be used to overcome these problems.
Figure I shows the fibre yield for hemp after removal of other botanical parts.
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Table 3. Qualitative properties of male, female and monoecious plants
Source: E. Horkay and I. Bócsa, “Objective basis for evaluation of differences in fibre quality between male, female and monoecious hemp”, Journal of the International Hemp Association, vol. 2, No. 1 (1995), pp. 26-30, and vol. 3, No. 2 (1997), pp. 67 and 68.
Continue at: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1997-01-01_1_page003.html
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