There are between 550 and 600 species of rattan, which can be found in rainforest areas from South China to Australia and Fiji to West Africa and Madagascar.
Basket reed is produced from the core of this thorny palm (mostly genera Calamus, Daemonorops or Plectomia) which grows like a vine into the forest canopy. Rattan for commercial use is harvested mostly in the jungles of South East Asia and Indonesia.
Native peoples travel into the rainforests, sometimes whole families for months at a time, to pull as many of the wild vines down from the forest canopy as they can. Much of the vine is left behind, tangled in the tree tops, the roots are left to grow again. The vines can be smaller in diameter near the roots and larger in diameter near the ends.
Once rattan has developed, they do not increase in diameter as they age, they only increase in length. Some species of vines can grow to a few hundred feet.
The rattan is cut into long pieces, approximately 20 feet or more, tied into manageable bundles and carried or dragged out of the forest.
The rattan poles are now debarked and boiled in a mixture of kerosene and diesel fuel to prevent blue staining and kill any bugs or borers. The residue from the boiling must now be cleaned off and the poles are left standing or laying in the sun to dry.
Bundles are made with mixed sizes, shipped to factories where they are graded by the type and size and of the rattan.
The poles are now washed in water and very labor intensively cleaned using sand and a cloth. The joints, where the rings of thorns were removed, are scraped and the poles are closely sized. They are now ready to make chair cane and round core reeds.
These same steps are used to process thick rattan cores and species that are used for the flat and flat oval reeds. Less care is taken with the outside bark since it is not usable and the thorough washing step is eliminated.
The thick sizes of certain species of rattan suitable for flats and flat ovals are put through a machine that takes off the outer bark. Depending on the size of the core, the factories may polish the core in a sanding machine.
Then flat ovals are cut from the outside, this is why sometimes the oval part is smooth and shiny. The rest of the core is sized and cut into flat reeds from 3/8″ to 1″ wide . Simple machines such as the one shown are used to cut the larger sizes of flat reed. Smaller machines are used for the sizes under 3/8″.
The flat strands are inspected for defects, graded by color (select quality and premium reeds are naturally whitish/eggshell in color. Second color reeds may have naturally occurring streaks of grey, black, rust or even purplish color running through the lengths.) and the tips are clipped to get rid of dark ends.
The reed is weighed into one pound hanks, tied, coiled and hairs are clipped off the edges. All containers of reed go through a mandatory fumigation with methyl bromide (this is the same insecticide that is used on all produce that enters this country) before shipment to the US. Methyl bromide is considered food safe and is regulated by the EPA.
Republished by permission of The Country Seat