Flax is a flowering plant that grows to a height of 1 1/2 feet to 3 feet tall at maturity. The plant gives off blooms in shades of blue or white. The origin of the plant is not known, but it was a very important crop to early American farmers. Flax plants are used for their fibers, their seeds, and the oil within the seeds.
Flax reaches up to 3 feet tall when it is fully grown. The plant has long, thin stems. Flax leaves are deep green, long and narrow. During the spring growing season, flax plants bear small flowers of blue or white. The flowers are less than an inch in diameter, with five petals per bloom. Flax plants also produce small fruits which each contain several flax seeds. Flax seeds are approximately the size of a sugar ant.
The seeds of the flax plant are also known as linseeds. Linseeds are processed to produce linseed oil. Linseed oil is commonly used in woodworking projects. The oil is rubbed into bare wood, to seal and protect it from weather and water.
The term "flax" applies not only to the flax plant itself, but also to the fibers that the plant produces. Flax fibers are spun into threads, which are woven into sheets of fabric. The fabric that is produced from the fibers of a flax plant is called "linen," which is used to make strong, breathable clothing. The fibers of a flax plant are stronger than cotton fibers.
As of 2010, flax was grown on about 12 million acres around the world. Most of the world's flax seed supply is grown in northern Europe and Russia. Production of flax plants in the United States has diminished greatly in the past several decades. In the 1970's, there were 2 million acres of flax in the United States. That acreage has dropped to half a million acres.
Other Uses of Fibers
Lower-grade flax fibers that are not used to make fabric are utilized in other ways. Cigarette papers are made from low-grade flax fiber. Other flax fibers are processed and chopped and used as insulation.