Which Plants Can Be Used to Make Paper?

The would-be papermaker sometimes overlooks one or two obvious resources when embarking on the potentially expensive hobby. Rather than investing in costly linens, consider using corn husks from last night's dinner, or the browning hosta and iris leaves from the weekend's yard work, as your papermaking fiber. This harvested "garbage," combined with a simple nature walk, often yields all the material you need to make paper. Keep in mind, however, that in papermaking, different plant types often need different kinds of processing after collection.

Woody Bast Fibers

Some plants possess both an inner bark, called the bast, which results in strong paper. When the inner bark comes from the stems and branches of woody plants, these woody bast fibers usually must be steamed, stripped and rinsed, then dried in order to recover the usable fiber. Woody bast materials suitable for papermaking come from the paper birch, blackberry and raspberry vines, dewberry, various elm trees, fig, hazel nut, hibiscus, juniper, mulberry, linden and willow trees. Collect about 6 feet worth of branches and stems, ideally with a diameter of between ½ to 1 inch, in order to make 1 lb of paper.

Herbaceous Bast Fibers

Herbaceous bast fibers come from the inner stems of non-woody perennials. Like woody bast fibers, most plants within this category need a certain amount of steaming, stripping, rinsing and drying. They include flax, hollyhock, jute, milkweed, stinging nettle, thistle and tobacco.

Petiole Bast Fibers

Petiole bast, the inner part of certain plants connected to the stalk, often requires a good bit of heavy-duty scraping to retrieve fibers for papermaking. Some banana plants and palms contain suitable petiole bast fiber.

Leaf Fibers

Papermaker Helen Hiebert notes that the harder you find it to tear a plant's leaves by hand, the more likely those leaves will yield strong papermaking material. The leaves can be easily cut from the plants in spring or fall, yielding green-tinged paper in the former and brown in the latter. Most simply need drying after they've been gathered. Leaf fibers include the leaves of agave, canna lily, cattail leaves, daffodil, hosta, iris, pineapple, raffia sisal hemp and yucca. Yucca and sisal hemp require much more processing than the other plants on the list.

Grass Fiber

Most papermaking plants in the grass fiber family process easily, but a few, such as bamboo, require extensive shredding. Others chop fairly easily for drying and processing. Good choices in this category include cattail stalks, corn husks, crab grass, Joe-pye weed, some ornamental grasses, mugwort, rush and wheat straw. Hiebert estimates that 1 pound of this material, when dried, will yield 10 small sheets of paper, so prepare to tote a lot of these plants if you aim to make a lot of paper from them.

Seed Fibers and Other Materials

Some plants have fluffy seed heads which translate well into paper. They include cotton, milkweed and thistle. Obviously, many plants are required to yield enough "fluff" for seed paper, but in you encounter a field of thistle, that may not be a problem! Seaweed, another readily available plant in some areas, requires little processing before being turned into paper.

Keywords: papermaking plants, woody bast, herbaceous bast, papermaking fiber, strong paper

About this Author

Melissa Jordan-Reilly has been a writer for 20 years, both as a newspaper reporter and as an editor of nonprofit newsletters. Among the publications in which she has published are, "The Winsted Journal," "Taconic" and "Compass Magazine." A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Jordan-Reilly also pursues sustainable agriculture techniques and tends a market garden at her Northwestern Connecticut home.