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Fiber Flax, Seed Flax

The flax plant, genus Linum, family Linaceae, is the source of two important commodities. Linen is a historic, economically important cloth made from the fiber of flax. Linseed oil is obtained from the pressed seeds of the plant. There are about 200 species of Linum. The species that is cultivated most extensively is L. usitatissimum, an annual plant grown for its fiber and seed. Varieties of L. usitatissimum grown as a fiber crop have been selected to have stems that are tall, which ensures long fibers. Varieties grown for seed are shorter, with extensive branching, and thus bearing more flowers and yielding more seed.

Flax plants have gray-green, lanceolate (long and tapered), alternate leaves. Their height ranges from 1-4 ft (0.3-1.2 m). Many cultivated varieties of flax have blue flowers, although some have white, yellow, pink, or red flowers. The flowers are self-pollinating and symmetrical, with five sepals, five petals, five stamens, and a pistil with five styles. The fruit is a capsule with five carpels, each containing two brown, yellow, or mottled, shiny seeds. Flax crops are grown in rotation with other crops to avoid fungal pathogens that cause diseases in flax plants.

Linum angustifolium is a wild, perennial flax, is thought to be a "parent" of cultivated flax. There is evidence that this species was used by prehistoric peoples in Switzerland about 10,000 years ago. The ancient Flax (Linum usitatissimum). JLM Visuals. Reproduced with permission.
Egyptians wrapped their mummies in linen. Today, Russia is the largest producer of flax. Flax grown in the United States (mainly for seed) is raised in the northern plains states.

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