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THE ESPARTO GRASS.
Rags have failed to supply the demands of paper-makers in this age of printing. A cheaper, more abundant fiber is essential to the undelayed advance of civilization itself. Straw is cheap and abundant, suited to the manufacture of low grades, but undesirable for the better qualities of printing paper. Wood has been used to some extent, and the swamp cane of the south (Arundinaria gigantca) is coming into extensive use as paper material.
While these and other fibers should be tested, there is one that las maintained for centuries a high reputation for various useful purposes, and within a few years has almost monopolized the European market for paper material—the Spartum of Pliny, the esparto of the Spaniards, known by various scientific synonyms, as Macrochloa tenacissima, Stipa tenacissima, and Lygeum spartum. It is also popularly known in Spain as the atocha plant, and in Algiers as alfa. It flourishes in Spain and Portugal, in Algeria, and in North Africa. It is said to be found also in Naples, Sicily, and Crete. The principal sources of supply are the provinces of Granada, Murcia, and Almeria, on the Mediterra. nean coast of Spain. Its fiber is exported also from the French port, Oran, in Algeria, in latitude 35° 44' north, immediately opposite the region yielding it most abundantly in Spain.
It is interesting to note the fact that New Mexico produces a plant · the fiber of which appears to be similar to that of the Spanish esparto, as seen in the museum of this Department. It is knowu to botanists as Stipa tenacissima; was obtained in 1851 by Charles Wright, of the Mex. ican boundary commission, and may be found among the Department botanical collections. The latitude of the northern section of New Mexico is the same as that of southern Spain, the climate in some respects similar. being warm, dry, approaching aridity, and the soil is suited to similar products.
The esparto is presumed to be identical with the spartum of the Latins, described by Pliny as useful in various arts of the Carthagenians in their first war in Spain. At that period the mountains of Spartacus Campus, including the territory between Grenada and Murcia, were corered with this spontaneous growth; and its uses in the Iberian peninsula were represented to be innumerable. The historian expressed regret that its great bulk prevented its transportation for a greater distance than thirty leagues, and its consequent universal dissemination as a valuable material for many industries. The region referred to is the precise locality of its greatest production now.
IIABITAT OF THE ESPARTO.
It grows on sandy shores, and on the gravelly hills of the interior, upon soil so poor as scarcely to be capable of any other growth. It is a spontaneous product, requiring and receiving no care whatever, but becoming more vigorous and abundant with yearly or semi-annual gathering. The harvest is not obtained by cutting, but by pulling or separating from the root, a labor of little difficulty if performed at tho right time, which is the month of May or June at or near the coast, anii July at the higher elevations of the interior. It is particular in the choice of soils, growing in one locality in great luxuriance, and in another enduring a dwarfed and feeble existence, as seen in 'isolated patches or tufts. Above an altitude of three thousand to thiree thousand fre hundred feet it is rarely seen, and disappears in the vicinity of the line of winter snows. It may be said to be very hardy, though not so much in enduring severe frosts as in thriving in continual drought and great poverty of soil.
It grows naturally in tufts or clumps, and is gathered by pulling. If collected green, it becomes a transparent fiber of little value; if too dry, the constituent elements of silica and iron are with difficulty removed.
The gatherer protects his legs and hands with boots and gloves, and then twists the stem around a stick to obtain a better purchase. The time of harvest is from the middle of May to the middle of June. After being pulled it is collected into bundles, which are formed into a heap and left for two days. On the third day it is spread and exposed to the heat of the sun till dry, then rebundled and placed under shelter, and afterwards macerated in sea-water if it can be obtained, again dried, wetted, and beaten before it is ready for use.
NATURE AND USES.
The esparto of the interior is longer and whiter than that of the sea coast, but thinner, and of less strength.
It is estimated that fifty thousand persons are employed in the collec. tion, preparation, and manufacture of this fiber in southern Spain. Large quantities of esparto thread are shipped to France, mainly to Marseilles, where it is used in making carpets, ropes, baskets, and pack. ing fabrics. At Aquilas it is used for rope-inaking in place of hemp, and is crisped to imitate horse-hair for mattress material, for which purpose it is highly prized, being very durable, and not liable, it is claimed, to become a harbor for vermin,
As cordage it is regarded now with as inuch favor as in the times of the Carthagenians, from its valuable property of resisting decay in constant exposure to moisture. A considerable trade is carried on with the Indies in a style of shoe or sandal of esparto, “found very useful in hot, rocky, or sandy soil.” The peasants, in a portion of Spain, use no other chaussure. It is regarded as graceful and classical, if somewhat rustic. This fiber is also used in the Scotch carpet trade in Kidderminster and Brussels goods.
Great improvements have been made in its preparation for papermaking. A process is employed for extracting the glue-like matter it contains, leaving the fiber clean and ready for use. Formerly thirty or forty per cent. of rags were used in the manufacture, but an excellent paper, strong and of fine surface, is now made without any admixture of inen or other material.
Of all the substitutes for rags tested and used at present in Great Britain, the esparto scarcely has a competitor. Some of the largest British papers are now printed upon it. Experiments have recently been made in softening the fiber, by passing it through machinery without the aid of caustic soda. So advanced are the processes by which it is converted into paper, that it has been claimed that a cargo arriving in London in the morning has been converted into paper during the same evening.
Its chemical constituents are said to be: yellow coloring matter, 12; red matter, 6; gum and resin, 7; salts forming the asb, 1.5; paper tiber, 73.7. The quantity imported into Great Britain has reached the following figures: 1864, 13,403 tons; 1865, 51,570 tons, (£269,030 ;) 1866, 69,833 tons, (£311,868.) The entire importation of paper material, of all sorts, during the same years, was 67,819 tons in 1864, 71,155 in 1865, and 94,985 in 1866—esparto constantly increasing its relative proportion, and attaining a maximum of more than seventy per cent. of the total foreign supply.
PROGRESS OF TIIE ESPARTO TRADE.
The Department has had, for several years, more or less correspondence with the United States consuls in Southern Spain on this subject, and has received very full accounts of the progress and condition of the esparto trade, especially from Mr. Frederick Burr, United States consular agent at Adra. When the recent demand sprang into activity, the fiber was obtained only from the hills and on the coast; but as consumption quickened the demand and advanced the price, the cost of carriage through a region almost destitute of roads was amply met, and the business of gathering and forwarding extended forty miles or more into the interior. The mode of transit is by bullock carts." The provinces of Almeria and Murcia have furnished the greater portion of the supply.
In 1864 the cost in the interior was only four reals, or fifty cents, pei quintal, while the freight to the coast was ten reals more. Atthat date the average price, on shipboard, was about £4 28., or $20 50, per Eng. lish ton. In the previous year it was purchased at about two-thirds that price. Prices have been constantly advancing since that date.
The crop is purchased annually of individuals or municipalities own. ing waste lands on which it grows by merchants or speculators, who employ the peasantry to collect the grass and convey it to local posts, ready for shipment by carts or on the backs of mules or donkeys. Fortunes have been made by the proprietors of these hitherto worthless lands, and by the purchasers of them, as also by the traders in this species of merchandise.
Mr. Burr assumes that a vast breadth of country in the United States, in the same latitude in which it is found in Spain, is adapted to its growth. The following extracts are made from his report to this Department.
There are two classes of this plant, the "atocha," properly so called, and the coarse cr “bastard” atocha. The latter is much superior in height, the grass growing to the height of about three feet, but it is inferior in quality and in strength of fiber, though used for several purposes.
The atocha grass, which is called esparto, is not cut like ordinary grass, but is pulled up from its socket, as it were, for it very readily separates from the plant a little above the roots, which it is necessary to leave undisturbed in the ground. The thin, wiry grass thus gathered is spread out to dry in the sun, and is the article known in Spanish as esparto.
The esparto grass, from the length and strength of its fiber, and the facility with which it may be twisted into ropes, and easily woven (or rather plaited) into matting, forms a cheap and useful article for many ordinary purposes. In the great mining district of the Sierra de Gador, in this province, and in that of Cartagena, and most others in Spain, all the ropes used in the mines are made of esparto. These ropes are very slender-about one and a half inch in diameter-yet they serve perfectly well for the descent and ascent of the miners, as well as for raising the ores and rubbish from below, and the baskets used in the latter operation are also made of the esparto. As the more mountainous parts of Spain are nearly destitute of cart roads, the chief transportation is on the backs of mules and donkeys, the articles carried being always packed in baskets or in panniers made of the esparto grass. All kinds of matting for houses and other purposes are also made of this useful article.
Besides these coarser applications, very neat and pretty baskets are made of this grass, and also, of one species, a fine and even elegant matting for houses of the better class, as carpets are not used, and indeed are not desirable in this hot southern climate. For this purpose the grass used is dyed of various colors, and it is then woven into various simple but tasteful patterns. This superior matting has much the same appearance as carpets, but is infinitely preferable in a warm climate both for coolness and for cleanliness. Indeed this Spanish matting is much prettier than the cane matting used in all European houses in the East Indies, though it is not so durable as the latter.
The atocha plant flourishes at Oran, on the opposite coast of Africa, in latitude 350 44' N., and, it may be said, generally, in all the southern part of Spain; sparingly, even as far north as Madrid, (latitude 40° 30',) where one of the principal streets, leading to the environs, is called “ Calle de Atocha." This would place the geographical zone of this grass from 34° or 350 to about 40° north latitude, according to my present information, for it may possibly extend still further both north and south. But it is important to observe that the most abundant region-that in the provinces of Almeria and Murcia-which now furnishes the chief supply of this article-is situated adjoining to and between the thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth parallels; and that it is here where it appears to grow in the greatest abundance and luxuriance. It is needless to remark that the above zone is, in Europe, chiefly occupied by the Mediterranean Sea, while in the United States it embraces the entire breadth of a vast continent.
Climate.—The climate of the south of Spain is the hottest in Europe, particularly that of the provinces on the Mediterranean coast; nor is heat alone its characteristic, for it is equally remarkable for its extreme dryness and want of rain; so much so that the cultivation of large and fertilo tracts depends entirely upon irrigation. In what is called the Secanos, or lands somewhat elevated, and thus dependent entirely on the rains, I have known the crops to be lost for three years in succession, so little rain having fallen. In fact so arid are many tracts in the south of Spain that they present, though on a miniature scale, a sort of parallel to the deserts of Africa and the east. This resemblance often struck me when I first arrived in Spain, after a residence of some years in India and oriental countries.
On and near the coast the temperature during the hot summer months is usually 850 to 900 Fahrenheit,* and in the winter months the climate is so mild that the thermometer seldom marks less than 45° to 50° Fahrenheit. A few miles inland among the mountains, however, the climate is much colder. The climate of this part of the Spanish coast can, probably, be best inferred from its vegetable productions. Thus the sugar-cane flourishes here, and there are many and increasing sugar manufactories in this part of Andalusia. In one locality, the plain of Motril, thirty miles west of Adra, the cotton plant has been cultivated with some success, though upon a very small scale, not being found profitable. All along this coast, too, groups of the date palm are occasionally seen. This elegant tree, though now neglected and diminishing in numbers, was, most probably, planted by the Moors during the period of Arab dominion in Spain. Indeed it is well known that the numerous and venerable olives which abound in this neighborhood existed on the confiscated property of the Moors at the time of the conquest of Granada. Among other semi-tropical productions of these provinces may be named the nopaul and the aloe, which are abundant, especially along the coast, though they are not equal in size and luxuriance to what I have been accustomed to see in India and the tropics.
Eleration abore the sea level.-The naturally hot and arid climate of the south of Spain is modified in a very remarkable manner by the occurrence of lofty mountain ranges in the interior. In Andalusia especially, we have the Sierra Nevada range, the highest summits of which rise up almost to the curve of perpetual congelation. Thus, from plantations of sugar-cane near the coast may be seen, in the hottest summer months, patches of snow which never melt, and at a distance of not more than thirty to sixty miles. These snowy patches mark the lofty peaks of La Veleta and of Muley Hassan, which rise, respectively, 11,420 and 11,700 English feet above the level of the Mediterranean. Thus, in traveling a few niiles inland, and even without losing sight of the sea, a difference of climate may be experienced equivalent to that of many degrees of latitude, while a total change may be observed in all the vegetable productions of the soil.
In considering the natural climate of the atocha, the circumstance of elevation above the sea-level is, therefore, most important, and I have, fortunately, been able to fix the elevation and consequent temperature, which marks its upward limit, with considerable precision.
It will be seen that we have here two distinct climates that of the coast and that of the mountains. In the former, except as a somewhat rare phenomenon of a few hours in duration, snow never falls. But in the latter, snow is abundant for many months in the year, and lies for very long periods, according to the elevation, till, on the summits of the Sierra Nevada, it never disappears. The falls of snow are generally
* That is, the temperature in-doors and in the sbade, as usually taken.
limited to a certain zone of altitude, above which, in winter, wo usually see all whito ind spotted, while below, in most cases, nothing falls but rain. This altitude, (peri. ally near the coast where I reside, I have taken some pains to fix, (for it may not holi good in the interior,) and find it to be, very approximately, about 3,500 feet, that is, near the Mediterranean, and where the warm exhalations of that sea greatly modlify the temperature. I should place the usual limits of the show at 3,500 feet above its level; but in the interior, if only fifteen or twenty miles distant, the snow level is, doubtless, somewhat lower.
Now it is very important to our present purpose to observe, as I have lately done when considering the subject, that it is at about this elevation where the show usually commences, that the atocha plant ceases to grow.
It will be seen, therefore, that the atocha, thongh a hardy plant, growing here indifferently in the plains and on the mountains near the coast, is contined pretty mucli within certain limits of temperature, and will not bear the cold. In fact it requires al hot and somewhat dry climate, such as I have described as prevailing in the south or Spain. So far as this climate prevails the atocha seems to grow equally on the momtains and in the plains, but its luxuriance is checked in approaching the altitude of the winter snows, and at about that elevation its growth ceases altogether.
Congenial soils and geological structure of country. Although the growth of the atocha extends over a large expanse of country, it is only in particular situations that this grass attains that degree of luxuriance and abundance which is essential to render it important in a commercial point of view. This indicates that it is eminently a plant that seeks and requires a congenial soil. On this subject, in addition to my own partial observations, I have made many inquiries, and find that there are soils on which the atocha will not grow at all; others on which it grows but sparingly, while on others again it is the prevailing weed or product of the soil, being spontaneously produced by nature in vast abundance.
I have before mentioned the mountainous nature of this country, and, as soils are merely the detritus of the subjacent and neighboring rocks, I consider that the most general and, perhaps, exact idea of those in this district, will be obtained by a brief reference to its geographical structure, which I now proceed to describe.
The Sierra Nevada range, which, under different names, may be said to determino tho configuration of the coast of Spain from the straits of Gibraltar, west, to the plains of Murcia, east, consists, in its highest and central portion, of a vast mass of micaceous schists below, approaching to gneiss, while, on its upper surface there reposes an enormous mass of shaly rocks, often soft and decomposing into a stiff blue clay. These shaly rocks, the thickness of which is very considerable, are covered, in places, by a dark sub-crystalline limestone, generally forming the upper part of the mountains, and constituting pre-eminently the metalliferous or lead-producing rock of the south of Spain. These three rocks, mica slates, shales, and limestones, at various elevations, from the towering heights of the Sierra Nevada to minor ranges not more than fifteen hundred to two thousand foet in height, constitute all the elevated portions of the provinces of Granada, Almeria, and Murcia, while the plains along the coast and the inland valleys generally consist of yellowish tertiary marls. These marls are sometimes covered by a thin superficial deposit of detritus of more recent date, which, when of a siliceous nature, or cemented by siliceous matter, form a very sterile soil almost destitute of vegetation. I have never been able to trace any line of demarcation between the micaceous schists and the superincumbent shales, and am inclined to think, therefore, that they all form one great series, the lower part of which has been thoroughly acted upon by metamorphic influence. Nor is there any distinct line between the shales and the superincumbent limestones, for near the line of junction there are frequent alternations of the two rocks, till, as we rise in the series, the limestones prevail. Quartzose rocks and their usual concomitants, siliceous sands, do not, that I am aware of, occur in all this district. Three soils, therefore, prevail in these provinces, argillaceous, calcareous, and argillaceous-calcareous, from the frequent admi
so from the wide occurrence of tertiary marls in the plains and valleys.
This sketch of the geological structure of the country will, I think, rives onllicient idea of the general nature of the soils in the south of Spain, in whici oli omrishes with most luxuriance. It may, therefore, be found
littricts in the territory of the United States, wliero and which are thus best adapted for the grass.
The subject of soils is, however, siderations, and to what I have from which the following seem
Two kinds of soil are const wet or marshy soil and the surface of which pebbt Reddisli-colored soils,