Rattan is one of the most used materials for the creation of garden furniture. In fact, this natural fiber comes from a palm tree.
With this in-depth study we will learn about the characteristics of the plant from which rattan is extracted and how to take care of this vegetable fiber.
It is a vegetable fiber obtained from the processing of some species of Asian climbing palms not to be confused with wicker and bamboo.
By weaving the fibers, furniture and various objects are obtained, while its wood is used for the manufacture of umbrellas and poles used in some martial arts.
In addition to its undeniable exotic charm, this material also has a number of practical advantages. Very resistant, it is at the same time light and resistant to mold, which is why it is used for outdoor furniture
Rattan is nothing more than a component of a plant belonging to the species of climbing palms. This palm is called Calamus rotang. The term Calamus in Greek means “cane” and recalls the thin shape of the stem, very similar to that of bamboo.
It is a typical plant of Southeast Asia and of the whole equatorial area, including Africa and Central America.
It generally does not exceed 80-100 cm in height. Sometimes the stem is covered with thorns and can be more or less thin. Typical is the swelling of the central area which denotes the classic barrel shape.
The leaves are characteristic, with a pinnate shape, 15 to 30 cm long and covered with thorns on the upper page. They come with a nice bright green. The flowers gather in branched inflorescences.
Rattan needs a humid environment, but it is not very easy to grow. It requires a particularly acid soil and we find it mostly in the forests, where it grows spontaneously and in abundance.
There he climbs almost everywhere, also removing light from the other trees. Precisely for this reason, its periodic collection helps to improve the quality of the eco-system.
Indigenous peoples have long used this precious natural fiber to build rafts with which to move. Curiously, the leaves were also used as hooks thanks to their hook shape, while furniture and other everyday objects were obtained from the stem.
However, it was only in 1700 that the great export of this fiber began, yielding a more than profitable trade for the Asian peoples. 1940 will have to be awaited for its appearance in Italy. In a short time it became a pleasant alternative to wicker for the creation of furnishing accessories. Thanks to its malleability, it lends itself to being intertwined to give shape to different objects and furniture, both indoors and outdoors.
Tables, poufs, chairs, armchairs: it was soon discovered that rattan could enter the homes of Italians bringing a breath of colonial style and exoticism. Unfortunately, however, we must consider that we are talking about a rather delicate material, which tends to lose its color if exposed to too much sunlight. Furthermore, when not subjected to periodic maintenance, it can deteriorate and be attacked by molds and parasites.
RATTAN AS A MATERIAL
As we have said several times, therefore, it is now used as a privileged material for the creation of furnishing elements. Together with hemp, wicker, rush and raffia, it is one of the natural fibers par excellence.
This is thanks to the characteristics of its wood, which is flexible and elastic, therefore suitable for processing. Using it in a commercial context is therefore an ethical and responsible choice. In fact, we are talking about a biodegradable and fast-growing material.
The natural color of rattan is light beige-brown, but now on the market we find it in various shades.
Synthetic rattan deserves a separate study, which simulates the aesthetic characteristics of natural rattan, but which actually has very little natural.
It is in fact a material made with high density polyethylene, a synthetic fiber designed to guarantee resistance and durability even when exposed to atmospheric agents.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RATTAN, BAMBOO AND WICKER
These materials have unique characteristics that make them different in strength, uses and price.
The stem of the Calamus palm is made up of different fibers intertwined to form a solid ‘stick’ with a regular diameter. It is a thick and rigid fiber, particularly resistant, suitable for sturdy furniture, but easy to maintain. It is very light, while withstanding heavy loads, making it ideal for armchairs and sofas. And if a special treatment is performed, it can also be installed outdoors.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is hollow, cylindrical in shape, and marked by lines along the entire perimeter and by regular knots. Being hollow, it cannot be bent, but it is extremely strong. For this reason it is mainly used for the structure of large furniture, such as beds.
Finally, wicker has a conical shape and is made up of a single, very solid fiber. Thinner and more flexible than other fibers, it is also more malleable. This allows to obtain tighter and more precise weaves and to create complex decorative motifs that make it suitable for very light furniture and chairs.
WHERE TO BUY IT
You can find both outdoor and indoor objects and furnishings in exotic and oriental shops, in baskets and those who sell trunks in natural fibers.
There are numerous furniture manufacturers that retail custom-made furniture, both classic and contemporary, and also online there are several retailers. Some designers have created timeless icons in rattan and wicker, including the Hanging Egg Chair by Nanna Dietzel and the round-backed armchair by Pierantonio Bonacina.
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