Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hula skirts

Cordyline fruiticosa (Cabbage Palm)
The leaves of the Cabbage Palm (known as La'i in Hawaiian and Lauti in Samoan) are used to make Hawaiian hula skirts and the Tongan sisi dance dress. In Hawaiian lore, the plant has great spiritual power and even today is considered a good luck charm.  The leaves are so strong that they can sewn together and ridden in lava sledding (a traditional Hawaiian sport that's a cross between surfing and snow sledding)!

The strength of the leaves comes from the cellulose fibers, which are found in all leaves, but are especially thick in cabbage palm leaves. Chemically, cellulose, one of nature's strongest natural materials, is very similar to starch, one of the stickiest. Both are made of the sugar glucose, but with a slight difference. In starch the the glucose is arranged such that there's room for lots of water to surround it, which leads to its sticky nature. In cellulose the glucose is arranged such that long strings of the sugar bind to each other and exclude all water. This leads to a compact, highly stable, and very strong structure that per weight, is stronger than steel.


  1. Yep. It isn't a grass, isn't a cabbage, and isn't a palm. Really sums it up for common names doesn't it. Of course Panama hats don't come from Panama either.

    1. And the sweet potato isn't a potato and military intelligence isn't ... Well I agree with you on the problems of naming! Thanks for the comment!