The botanical name of abaca is Musa Textilis, a tree-like herb which is of the same genus as the common banana which it closely resembles. It is indigenous to the Philippines.
The abaca plant to the untrained eye, can easily be mistaken for the banana plant - without the fruit.
The abaca plant is smaller than the banana although some varieties under favorable conditions can even be taller or at least equal the height of the banana plant.
Abaca, however differs from the banana through the following characteristics:
- Abaca leaves are narrower with pointed ends and the genral coloration of the leaves are glossy dark green about 8 feet in length, 12 feet in width. Whereas banana plants have leaves that are broader and the color is somewhat lighter green.
- The hearts, trunks and fruits of the banana plant are relatively bigger compared with thaht of the abaca plant. The abaca fruit is smaller, neither so palatable as that of the banana.
- The stem of the abaca grows to a height of 9 to 12 feet; 3 inches in thickness
- When mature, the abaca plant consists of about 12 to 30 stalks radiating from a central root system. Each of these stalks is about 12 to 20 feet high. The stalk is the source of fibers.
- The abaca plant is easy to grow. It propagates itself through suckering, or the growing of shoots from the roots.
- The abaca plant grows to about 10 to 15 feet high.
- Initially it requires 2 to 4 years for the baca plant to ripen. However, the abaca can grow shoots that develop roots and become ready for harvest in 4 to 8 months after the initial crop.
- When all the leaves have been formed from the stem, flower buds develop, at which time the plant has reached maturity and is then ready for harvest.
Abaca is also popularly known worldwide as "Manila Hemp". However it is not related to the true hemp.The name "hemp" is from the old English word "hanf" which came into use in the Middle English bt 1000 AD and belongs to the plant cannabis sativa . However, the abaca is not the common hemp plant from cannabis sativa. "Hemp" has come to be used as a generic term for all long fibers. The word "hemp" is generic for plants that contain a fiber called "bast". The abaca is a hard fiber (referring to its stiffness) and is entirely different from the true hemp which is a soft fiber and is the product of cannabis sativa.