Abacá, from Spanish "abacá" ("ah buh KAH"), or Musa textilis, is a species of banana native to the Philippines, grown widely as well in Borneo and Sumatra. It is sometimes referred to as "BacBac". The plant is of great economic importance, being harvested for its fibre, called Manila hemp, extracted from the large, oblong leaves and stems. On average, the plant grows about 20 feet (6 meters) tall. The fibre is used for making twines and ropes as well as the Manila envelope. It is classified as a hard fibre, along with coir, henequin and sisal. The plant's name is sometimes spelt Abaká.
Abacá was first cultivated on a large scale in Sumatra in 1925 under the Dutch, who had observed its cultivation in the Philippines for cordage since the 1800s, followed up by plantings in Central America sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Commercial planting began in 1930 in British North Borneo; with the commencement of WWII, the supply from the Philippines was eliminated by the Japanese.
Other common names for Manila hemp include "Cebu hemp" and "Davao hemp".
The plant is normally grown in well-drained loamy soil, using pieces of mature root planted at the start of the rainy season. Growers harvest abacá fields every three to eight months after an initial growth period of 18-25 months and a total lifespan of about 10 years. Harvest generally includes having several operations concerning the leaf sheaths:
The fibers can then be spun into twines or cordage.
Abacá rope is very durable, flexible and resistant to salt water damage, allowing its use in rope, hawsers, ship's lines and fishing nets . It can be used to make handcrafts like bags, carpets, clothing and furniture. The fibers can be pulped and processed into specialty paper used in tea bags, vacuum bags, currency, and more. Lupis is the finest quality of abacá. Sinamay is woven chiefly from abaca.