Paper has many roles in everyday life, such as writing paper, packaging boxes and banknotes. Throughout history people have used paper to make a whole variety of products. The Economic Botany Collections at Kew house many examples of paper used to make less-than-ordinary objects, including hats, sandals, hair ornaments, umbrellas and even a waterproof raincoat.
Today most paper is made from wood pulp, but many plant fibres can be used instead. The Economic Botany Collections at Kew Gardens have a vast array of paper specimens and products illustrating the wide range of plants that have been used to make paper products. The Collections house over 350 paper specimens representing nearly 50 plant families and over 100 genera. The dominant families in the Collections are Moraceae, Gramineae, Thymelaeaceae, and Cyperaceae. Other families represented with fewer samples are the Juncaecae, Palmae, Pandanaceae, and Zingiberaceae families. Specimens include paper from banana and palm leaves, rice paper, papyrus, paper mulberry, and Mitsumata paper from Edgeworthia gardeneri.
The Collections represent a diverse range of paper specimens from all over the world, including part of the Sir Harry Parkes collection from Japan, and the Thomas Routledge collections gathered from Mexico, Australia, India, Trinidad and Tobago, the East Indies, and Sweden. From wasp's nests, illustrating the peculiar way insects can make paper, to recent acquisitions of paper made from Dombeye madagarscariensis from Madagascar, the specimens in the Economic Botany Collections attest to the diverse nature of plants and their products.
For further information on paper and paper making, please see “Papyrus, Paper and Paper Making” which is based on the Collections at Kew.
Peculiar Paper Fact
Japanese paper trees were a great luxury to the wild boar, so extra care was taken to protect the trees from the animals. Inhabitants of the northern provinces believed that if a wild boar was killed and buried in the neighbourhood of their paper trees, a second boar would never come near them again.