Flex like Rattan! If its curvaceous and coiled, twisted and turned and bent into arcs, most likely it’s made out of this reliably workable climbing vine of the Palm family.
One of the most biodiverse plants, it has around 600 species around the world. The largest distribution belongs to the genus Calamus, which is common in the Philippines. It is found in the secondary growth forest or where trees are young so it allows ambient light in. On its outer sheath grow spiny thorns which allow the plant to climb upward along tree trunks reaching for its daily dose of sunshine. Its width can range from 2-5 cm depending on the variety.
Harvesting is a village effort and occurs when the vines reach about 24-30 meters in length. Local communities can band together in this activity as each Rattan vine is pulled off its supporting tree. Rattan is from the Malay word rotan, meaning to smoothen or strip. This describes the process of twisting the cut vine around a tree trunk to remove its spiny sheath before the farmers can coil it around the shoulder and bring it home.
There are three remarkable facts that make this creeping plant popular among crafters. The vine’s climbing habit translates to the important property of pliability to be coiled, woven, and bent into desired shapes. More significant is its ability to keep an almost identical diameter from end to end, its consistency a much needed quality by designers. And with Rattan the next harvests from the same vine will yield an even better quality than the previous ones.
Rattan peel wrap doesn’t go to waste as it’s the world’s hardest plant material and yet is pliable enough to be woven for varied applications. The inner core is used in making internationally-famed indoor Wicker furniture and accessories.
About 70% of the world’s raw Rattan comes from the forests of Indonesia. Our country is also a known supplier with 66 species distributed within the islands. In fact, it is known by its other names: Manila and Malacca. But the supply has been dwindling. Rattan “farming” most definitely will benefit the communities, the lifestyle industry and the environment: since it is much easier to harvest than timber, while leaving the trees standing for the next generation.