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Flax may well have been the first
plant used for fiber. The wild variety, Linum angustitolium, grew
as a perennial in many parts of the prehistoric world; it was used
by Swiss Lake Dwellers as early as 8000 B.C.E. Linum usitatissimum,
the annual variety, was cultivated extensively in the Mediterranean
region at least as early as neolithic times and is the variety
grown throughout the world.
Flax is a bast
fiber; that is it is part of the inner bark (phloem) of the stem of a
dicotyledonous plant. The bast fibers, which grow as bundles held together
by pectins, waxes, and gums, support the plant and transport nutrients.
Composed of cellulose (as are all plant fibers), flax is grown for its
seed, which supplied oil, as well as for its fiber. Flax grown for its
seed is prodomently grown in the United States and Canada, while fiber
flax is grown in other parts of the world.