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Anatomia y propiedades fisico-quimicas de la fibra de chambira.

Anatomy and physicochemical properties of the chambira fiber


Palm fibers are used to manufacture a variety of goods and may represent a locally non-negligible economic resource (Schultes 1977). Several parts of the plant provide fiber: hard fiber for manufacturing brushes from the leaf sheath of some species such as Aphandra natalia (Balslev et al. 2008, Kronborg et al. 2008) or Leopoldiniapiassaba (Lescure et al. 1992); rot-resistant fiber, e.g. for stuffing car seats, from the fruit of Cocos nucifera (Balick & Beck 1991); raw material for manufacturing furniture from the stem of the Calamus species (Kalima & Jasni 2004). Cellulose fibers extracted from the leaf of Chamaerops humilis (Benahmed-bouhafsoun et al. 2007) or petiole of Mauritia flexuosa (Bresani 1924, De Los Heros & Zarate 1980) are considered promising material by the cellulose industry.

Astrocaryum chambira, the chambira palm, provides a soft fiber commonly used to make carrying bags and hammocks. Chambira fiber is extracted from the yellowish pinnae of the young spear leaf that emerges from the crown center. According to Holm Jensen & Baslev (1995), who provided a complete description of processing chambira fiber and products for several Ecuadorean ethnic groups, fiber extracted from mature leaves was used to make fishing nets. In the Peruvian Amazon, chambira fiber is locally extracted and manufactured goods are sold in local and regional markets, and in the many souvenir shops found in the main touristic cities (Mejia, 1988; Vormisto, 2002). Other species of the genus Astrocaryum (A. standleyanum, A. aculeatum, A. jauari, and A. vulgare) are occasionally used for fiber extraction from the lamina (Borgtoft Pedersen 1994, Holm Jensen & Baslev 1995, Kahn 2008).

Leaf anatomy of several species of Astrocaryum, including those mentioned in this article, was formerly described from seedlings (Millan & Kahn 2010). Here, anatomical study focuses on chambira fiber and compares it with two species, Astrocaryum jauari and A. standleyanum (the former is occasionally used for fiber extraction, the latter does not provide any individual fiber), which both belong to the subgenus Astrocaryum, and with a third species, Astrocaryum perangustatum, which belongs to the subgenus Monogynanthus and the leaves of which are never used for fiber extraction. Physicochemical and ultrastructural characterization of chambira fiber cell wall completes the anatomical study. The fibers are compared with vegetal fibers used by industry.


Material and methods

Palm species (Fig. 1)--Astrocaryum chambira is a large solitary palm; it grows in primary forest as well as in secondary vegetation and open areas in the western Amazonian lowlands and slopes of the eastern Andean foothills in Ecuador, in western Brazil, and extends to the north and central eastern regions of Peru. Astrocaryum jauari is a large riparian caespitose palm that produces several stems from its base; it is commonly found along most rivers of the Amazon basin. Astrocaryum standleyanum is a medium-sized solitary palm, it grows most commonly in lowland rainforests on poorly drained soils along the Pacific slope from Costa Rica to the Pacific lowlands of western Colombia and Ecuador. These three species develop ragged leaves, i.e. the pinnae are irregularly grouped and oriented in several directions from the rachis. Astrocaryum perangustatum is a large-leaved, short-stemmed palm, the pinnae are regularly disposed in one plane; it is endemic to central Sub-Andean valleys (Millan, 2006), where it grows in forest understory as well as in open areas.

Material collected--Medial pinnae of unopened spear leaf (those commonly used for fiber extraction) were collected in 2-5 individuals from the following localities: Astrocaryum chambira --in Yamayakat (78[degrees]20'11"W, 05[degrees]03'19"S), Amazonas, northern Peru; Santa Luz (74[degrees]03'40"W, 08[degrees]26'05"S), Abujao River, Ucayali, central eastern Peru. Astrocaryum jauari--Nanay River valley (73[degrees]15'28", 3[degrees]41'46"S) Maynas, Loreto, Peru. Astrocaryum standleyanum--in Puerto Quito (00[degrees]07'00"N, 79[degrees]16'00"W), Pichincha, Northern Ecuador. Astrocaryum perangustatum--in the Pozuzo region (75[degrees]33'16"W, 10[degrees]04'05"S), Pasco, Peru (Fig. 2).

Anatomical study--Fresh portions of 5 cm length taken from the midpart of medial pinnae of unopened spear leaves of the four species were fixed in FAA (formalin, alcohol, glacial acetic acid). Cross sections were cut by hand, bleached in commercial sodium hypochlorite and 5% chloral hydrate, stained in 1% safranin; zinc chloride-iodide and phloroglucin microchemical tests were applied for examination of cellulose and lignified fiber walls respectively (D'Ambrogio 1996). Fibers were extracted from medial pinnae from unopened spear leaves of Astrocaryum chambira and A. jauari following the traditional Amazonian process (Fig. 1); fiber portions of 1 cm length were macerated in 5% sodium hydroxide solution, boiled for 30 minutes, bleached with 5% chloral hydrate, and stained in 1% safranin (Msahli et al. 2007 modified).



Observations and photographs were made at 100x and 400x magnification with a Leica ICC50 photomicroscope; digital photographs were processed with Adobe Photoshop CS4.

Biometrics--Fibers and fiber cells were measured using an ocular micrometer. Data were obtained for three laminas per species. Mean values were calculated from 30 measurements (10 per lamina) for thickness of lamina, thickness of the fiber extracted from the leaf, length of adaxial and abaxial fibrous strands, number of fiber cells per non-vascular fibrous strand, and 90 measurements (30 per lamina) for length and width of non-vascular fiber cells. Significant differences at p<0.05 and p<0.01 were determined using ANOVA and pairwise comparison of means (Fisher's LSD).


Physicochemical analysis of non-vascular fibers--Fiber thickness and density (adapted from ASTM D 143) were measured with a Mitutoyo digital caliper, model CD-62BS (adapted from ASTM D 2256 and ASTM D 143, 1993). The tensile test was carried out for six units of Astrocaryum chambira fiber and one unit of Astrocaryum jauari fiber using an Alfred J. Amsler and Co. universal tensile machine, Model 46/224 (ASTM D 2256).

Cellulose and lignin contents were quantified for the chambira fiber; dry fibers were previously macerated in a mixture of 1:2 ethanol-benzene for release of extractives, and processed according to TAPPI methods T 203 I-74 for cellulose and T 222 I-74 for lignin (TAPPI 1978a, b).

Ultrastructure of chambira fiber cell wall--Fiber palm samples were fixed in 2.5% glutaraldehyde in 0.1 M phosphate buffer, pH 7.2, washed in 0.1 M phosphate buffer, pH 7.2 for about 8 hours and postfixed in 1% osmium tetroxide in 0.1 M phosphate buffer pH 7.2 for 12 hours. The samples were washed in 0.1 M phosphate buffer, pH 7.2 and dehydration took place in a graded ethanol and acetone series. Infiltration and embedding was performed in successive steps in a mixture of acetone and resin Durcopan * in a 60[degrees]C oven for 48 h. Ultra-thin 90 nm thick cross sections were cut with a Porter Blum MT2 ultramicrotome, the sections were stained with uranyl acetate and lead citrate for observation under transmission electron microscopy. (Ancheta et al. 1996).


Unopened spear leaves of the four species share common anatomical characteristics. These include: non-vascular fibrous strands located under the adaxial hypodermis and in the spongy parenchyma between the major vascular bundles, variable in shape and in number of fibers; round stegmata surrounding fiber strands; cellulose non-vascular fiber very elongated, acute at the ends, with thick walls; lignified vascular fibers short, septate, spindle-shaped and acute, located at the ends of the major and minor vascular bundles.

One of the main anatomical differences is that non-vascular fibrous strands form a dense row below the adaxial hypodermis in Astrocaryum chambira, A. jauari and A. standleyanum, while they are irregularly scattered in the mesophyll in Astrocaryum perangustatum (Fig. 3, 4).

ANOVA applied to biometric parameters obtained from the four species supports significant differences at p<0.01; pairwise comparisons of the means specify those differences as follows (Table 1): (i) Lamina of unopened spear leaves is thicker in Astrocaryum standleyanum, A. chambira and A. chambira than in A. jauari and A. perangustatum. (ii) The fiber extracted from the leaf is thicker in Astrocaryum chambira than in A. jauari (fiber are not extracted from the other two species). (iii) Non-vascular fibrous strands located below the adaxial hypodermis are significantly longer in Astrocaryum chambira and A. standleyanum than in A. jauari and A. perangustatum. Those located in the abaxial mesophyll are shorter than the former, the longest are found in Astrocaryum standleyanum. (iv) Non-vascular fiber cells are longer in Astrocaryum standleyanum and A. chambira than in A. jauari, short in A. perangustatum; they are wider in Astrocaryum jauari and A. standleyanum than in A. chambira and A. perangustatum. (v) The number of fiber cells per non-vascular fibrous strand is highest in Astrocaryum chambira.

Thickness and density of non-vascular fibers and tensile strength are higher in Astrocaryum chambira than in A. jauari (Table 2). Only one unit of jauari fiber was analyzed, however. Zinc chloride-iodide microchemical testing shows that nonvascular fiber cell walls are mainly composed of cellulose (Fig. 3E). Chemical analysis for commercial fiber extracted from unopened spear leaves gives a high cellulose content of 93.9% in dry matter, while the lignin content is low at 4.2%. Phloroglucin microchemical testing shows that lignin is concentrated in lignified fibers located in fibrous vascular strands (Fig. 3F).

In Astrocaryum chambira, the ultrastructure of non-vascular fiber wall shows a thick, three-layered cell wall (1.75 [micro]) and a narrow cytoplasmic lumen (0.91 [micro] diameter). The primary wall, made of the outer layer (S1), is 0.02 [micro] thick; the secondary wall is made of both medial (S2) and inner (S3) layers, 0.26 \ and 1.47 [micro] thick, respectively. Darkness decreases centripetally from S1 to S3. Vascular fiber wall is thin (0.8 [micro]) and unstratified with wider lumen than in the non-vascular fiber.


Chambira fiber extracted from unopened spear leaf consists of non-vascular fibers closely adhered to adaxial epidermis and hypodermis. A mechanical extraction process removes the unusable part of the mesophyll (spongy parenchyma, non-vascular and vascular fibers).

Anatomical features make clear why leaves of Astrocaryum jauari, A. standleyanum and A. perangustatum are not used regularly or at all for fiber extraction. Non-vascular fiber cells and strands are shorter, and their number per strand is lower in Astrocaryum jauari than in A. chambira. That may explain why the spear leaf of this species is not commonly used for fiber extraction. Moreover, Astrocaryum jauari is a riparian species flooded for several weeks each year; it is less accessible than Astrocaryum chambira that is commonly found in non-flooded areas and cultivated places. Astrocaryum standleyanum has a dense row of nonvascular fibrous strands under the adaxial hypodermis similar to A. chambira but the large size of non-vascular fibrous strands that are located in the abaxial part of the mesophyll makes it difficult to properly extract fibers as is done for chambira fiber. However, this species is used in making handicrafts such as hats and baskets, using the entire pinnae from unopened spear leaves with an appropriate treatment described in Borgtoft Pedersen (1994). Non-vascular fiber strands are small and irregularly dispersed in the mesophyll in Astrocaryum perangustatum, which makes it impossible to extract quality fibers.

Chambira fiber is the largest among the known fibers from palm leaves; moreover, its length is comparable to some fibers of palm stems (e.g. Calamus, Table 3). Fiber cell wall is thicker than in Cocos nucifera fiber (0.089 [micro]]) and thinner than Linum usitassisimum fiber (5-15 [micro]) according to Morvan et al. (2003) and Khalil et al. (2006). Length and width of chambira fiber can be compared to those of several commercial fibers (Table 4); however, only extreme values for these latter are available in the literature cited, which limits the meaning of such a comparison.

Except for New Zealand linen, Phormium tenax, tensile strength of chambira fiber is weaker than the values reported for other commercial fibers (Table 4), which would be at least partially due to the lack of lignin in the cell wall. Tensile strength is a function of several factors such as the rigidity of the lignified wall (McDougall et al. 1993), the strength of covalent bonds in the pyranose rings and between glucose units of the cellulose polymer chain (Kalima & Jasni 2004), or the orientation of cellulose microfibrils along the axis of the fiber (Sanchis Gritsch & Murphy 2005).

Chambira fiber is essentially composed of cellulose nonvascular fibers, which makes them flexible enough to be valuable for manufacturing bags and hammocks. Cellulose content is higher than those reported for other commercial fibers (Table 5). In this way, chambira fiber differs from most Monocotyledon fibers, which are composed of vascular tissue with lignified cell walls (Tomlinson 1990, McDougall et al. 1993, Evert 2006).

According to Holm Jensen & Baslev (1995), the exploitation of the chambira palm for fiber extraction is a classic example of extractivism in Ecuador; it is used as a shade tree for crops and could be an important component in agro-forestry systems or for revaluing deforested areas. This is also true of Peru. Introducing chambira fiber in industrial fiber process would be a good option to intensify the utilization of this palm and increase local income. However, further research on the ecology and genetic diversity of Astrocaryum chambira are really needed in order to optimize this resource within a sustainable development framework.


This work was carried out under the agreement between UNMSM/San Marcos National University, Peru and IRD/Research Institute for Development (UMR DIADE/DYNADIV), France, and supported by the PALMS project funded by the European Community, 7th Framework Programme, Grant Agreement No 212631, and the PROCYT-CONCYTEC-OAJ Project (230-2008). We thank Delya Yabar for her helpul assistance on the English manuscript.

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Manuel Marin (1), Betty Millan (1) y Francis Kahn (2)

(1) Museo de Historia Natural-Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Av. Arenales 1256, Jesus Maria, Lima, Peru.

(2) IRD, UMR DIADE, Casilla 181209, Lima, Peru.

Email: Betty Millan

Presentado: 30/06/2011

Aceptado: 08/07/2012

Publicado online: 01/10/2012
Table 1. Unopened spear leaf biometrics in regard to fiber extraction.
(1) N=30; (2) N=90; length and width in [mu]; mean[+ or -]SD
(min-max); a, b, c, d mark the significant differences between
species at p>0.01).

                                              of the fiber
                           Lamina               from the
                        thickness (1)           leaf (1)

A. chambira         231.0[+ or -]34.7 (a)   204.8[+ or -]17.5
                        (108.0-300.0)           (175-250)

A. jauari           191.7[+ or -]08.7 (b)   138.3[+ or -]14.6
                        (170.0-200.0)           (115-165)

A. standleyanum     288.0[+ or -]17.5 (c)

A. perangustatum    153.3[+ or -]11.2 (d)

                         Length of              Length of
                          vascular              vascular
                          fibrous                fibrous
                          strands                strands
                       located below             located
                        the adaxial          in the abaxial
                       hypodermis (1)         mesophyll (1)

A. chambira         78.4[+ or -]21.9 (a)   25.3[+ or -]6.1 (a)
                        (30.0-112.5)           (12.5-45.0)

A. jauari           42.2[+ or -]11.6 (b)   26.0[+ or -]5.7 (a)
                        (20.0-67.5)            (15.0-35.0)

A. standleyanum     65.1[+ or -]21.3 (c)   50.3[+ or -]6.8 (b)
                        (37.5-112.5)           (37.5-62.5)

A. perangustatum    31.0[+ or -]7.6 (d)    18.0[+ or -]4.7 (c)
                       (15.0 - 47.5)          (7.5 - 25.0)

                        Length of non-          Width of non-
                        vascular fiber          vascular fiber
                           cells (2)              cells (2)

A. chambira         2280.4[+ or -]590.9 (a)   8.2[+ or -]1.7 (a)
                        (1150.0-4300.0)           (5.0-11.3)

A. jauari           1672.9[+ or -]377.4 (b)   9.3[+ or -]1.3 (b)
                        (920.0-2800.0)            (7.5-12.5)

A. standleyanum     2468.6[+ or -]459.0 (c)   9.3[+ or -]1.9 (b)
                        (1450.0-3710.0)           (5.0-12.5)

A. perangustatum    1158.3[+ or -]339.9 (d)   6.9[+ or -]1.5 (c)
                        (580.0-2300.0)            (5.0-10.0)

                       N fiber cells
                          per non-
                         strand (1)

A. chambira         44.5[+ or -]17.0 (a)

A. jauari           13.9[+ or -]6.1 (b)

A. standleyanum     34.0[+ or -]14.5 (c)

A. perangustatum    15.8[+ or -]5.5 (b)

Table 2. Thickness (mm), density (g/[cm.sup.3]) and tensile strength
(Gpa) of chambira non-vascular fiber. mean[+ or -]SD (min-max).

                  Thickness           Density

A. chambira    0.19[+ or -]0.04   0.87[+ or -]0.03
n=6              (0.12-0.25)        (0.83-0.91)

A. jauari            0.09               0.67

               Tensile strength

A. chambira    0.15[+ or -]0.09
n=6              (0.04-0.26)

A. jauari           0.096

Table 3. Fiber cell length and width (in [micro]) in other palm
species. (1) Rasheed & Dasti (2003); (2) Benhamed-Bouhafsoun
et al. (2007); (3) Kalima & Jasni (2004).

                            Length    Width

Caryota urens (1)             6.3      3.3
Phoenix dactylifera (1)       6.7      3.5
Chamaerops humilis (2)       630.0     2.0
Calamus occidentalis (3)     2204      4.3

Table 4. Length and width of fiber cells (min-max in [mu]),
and tensile strength (Gpa) in commercial species.
(1) McDougall et al. (1993); (2) Rowell et al. (2000);
(3) Moreno et al. (2005); (4) Cruthers et al. (2006);
(5) Kromer (2009); (6) Harris & Woodcock-Sharp (2000).

                            Length            Width         Tensile

Agave sisalana (1,2)    2700.0-3400.0        8.0-41.0         6.1
Musa textilis (2,3)     4300.0-6200.0    16.0[+ or -]32.0     1.0
Phormium tenax (4,6)    3740.0-4750.0       10.1-12.8         0.1
Linum                   2100.0-40000.0      10.0-51.0         0.5
 usitassisimum (1,5)
Cannabis sativa (1,2)   8500.0-20000.0      10.0-51.0         9.0
Hibiscus                1000.0-2600.0       20.0-24.0         11.9
  cannabinus (1,2)

Table 5. Cellulose and lignin content (as % of dry matter)
in fibers of commercial species (McDougall et al. 1993).

                       Cellulose     Lignin

Agave sisalana         53.6-65.8    9.9-14.0
Cannabis sativa           67.0         3.3
Gossypium barbadense      83.0          -
Hibiscus cannabinus    55.0-59.0     6.8-8.0
Linum usitassisimun    56.5-64.1       2.0
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Author:Marin, Manuel; Millan, Betty; Kahn, Francis
Publication:Revista peruana de biologia
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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