Etymology of Flax
The common names of flax: lin, llion, liner, linum, linen, lein and lan exist in European languages of Aryan origin. The name of flachs of the teutonic languages comes from the old German flahs which means for fibre. Commonly, flax (English) is known as linseed (English), alsi, tisi (Hindi) and in Sanskrit: ooma, atasi, kshuma, malika, masina, marrma, parwati, san, sunila and badrapatri. The cultivated linseed, Linum usitatissimum L. belongs to family Linaceae and is the only species of that family which is of economic importance.
Classification of Linum usitatissimum L.
The genus Linum has descended from woody ancestors next to the exotic family Erythroxylaceae, in the line of Tiliaceae.
Centre of Origin
The available evidences indicate that probably the Mediterranean Centre is the primary centre of origin of flax and from here it spread to other centres. The most ancient species of flax brought under cultivation is thought to be Linum angustifolium. The Swiss lake dwellers are said to grown it, as also the ancient inhabitants of northern Italy. Linum angustifolium grows well, specially on hills throughout the region of which the Mediterranean forms the centre, and as far as England, the Alps and the Balkan mountains in Asia, from the south of Caucasus to Lebnon and Palestine.
It is recognized to be an old world crop and as revealed by historical and archeological records, its cultivation was in practice long before Christian era in Europe, Africa and Asia. It is acknowledged that the ancient Egyptians and Hebreus made use of linen stuffs as bandage binding the mummies.
Morphology and structure
Linum, the largest genus of Linaceae with about 200 species displays great diversity in Karyotypic morphology and biochemical characteristics. The flax fibre is a thick, regular fibre with a subdued lustre. It ranges in length about 10 cm to 1000 cm averaging about 50 cm in length. The flax cells are about 25 mm long and 10 um thick. For the longest and the best flax the fibre length to breadth ratio is about 15000:1. Short flax fibre may have a fibre length to breadth ratio of 1500:1, or less.
The colour of flax varies from light blond to grey blond, the particular shade resulting from the agricultural and climatic conditions under which it was grown and the quality and retting conditions.
The cross markings, known as nodes, on flax fibres give them their characteristics microscopic appearance. There may be up to 800 nodes in a single flax fibre cell. Nodes are fissures in the cell walls and indicate a change in the spiral direction of the fibrils which constitute cell walls. Spiralling imparts strength to the cell and hence, to the flax fibre. The polygonal cross section of the flax fibre cell is typical of most plant cells.
Microscopic view of longitudinal flax fibre shows smooth surface with transverse nodes (Fig 1). Cross section of flax is polygonal in appearance.
Polymer system and chemical composition
Flax polymer has a degree of polymerisation of about 18000. This means the flax polymer is made up of about 18000 cllobiose units. The flax polymer is about 18000 mm long and about 0.8 nm thick. This makes it the longest known, linear textile polymer. The polymer system of flax is more crystalline than that of cotton, because of its longer polymers. The highly oriented and crystalline structure of the molecules gives the fibre high tenacity and resistance to elongation, considerable lustre and rapid moisture absorption and desorption properties. These spirals about each other at approximately 60 to the fibre axis, thereby contributing towards the tenacity and durability of the fibre. The greater crystallinity of flax fibres is demonstrated by the fact that they are stronger, crisper and stiffer to handle and textile materials wrinkle more readily than those of cotton fibres.
Chemical constituents present in flax fibre
Lignin and pectin
Elements present in grey and bleached flax fibres
Name of the element
Element concentration (PPM)
Grey flax fibre
Bleached flax fibre
Large quantity of calcium and silicon present in the flax fibres adversely affect the drapability and wash ability of the finished product.
- Is an annual with a slender glabrous, greyish green stem
- Grows to a height of about 3 to 4 ft and is about 1/6 to 1/8 inch in diameter
- Varieties differ in their branching habits, those grown for seed bearing many branches and being bushy in character, whereas those grown for fibre normally branches only towards the top of the stem.
- Flowers are either blue or white according to variety, and are borne in loose terminal racemes or open cymes. Each flower has five ovate acuminate sepals and five free petals.
- Leaves are alternate, attenuated and lanceolate, glabrous with a smooth upper surface, and greyish green in colour.
- Fruit is small five celled globular capsule, light brown in colour, and dehiscent, it contains ten seeds, each of which is flat and oval in shape and has one end rounded and other pointed.
The properties and length of the fibre varies according to the species from which it is obtained. Fibre is lustrous, flexible and has good tensile strength and are resistant to micro organisms found in salt water.
Climate and soil
The quality of flax produced is considerably influenced by the weather conditions during its growth. Cool weather from March to June followed by warm dry weather in July afford excellent conditions for flax fibre production. Flax does adapt itself to different climatic conditions, soils and environment and will grow in any humid climate. For proper cultivation of flax a temperate and equable climate, free from heavy rains and frost is desirable, though frequent moist winds during the growing season are advantageous. A hot dry summer produces a short and harsh but strong fibre, whereas a moderately moist summer produces plants, which yield fine but strong silky flax. Higher the rainfall in growing months, the higher the content of long fibres in the straw. In the growing area the minimum temperature during the growing season is about 500 F and maximum temperature is about 1000 F. The best type of soil for fibre flax is good loamy soil which can be ploughed to a depth of 6 to 7 inch and has a firm clay sub soil.
In India flax / linseed is a winter crop and flourishes equally well in both the peninsular region of the south and the alluvial soil of the north. The crop flourishes well on deep moisture retentive soils when the cold season is favourable. It is cultivated in different parts of the country with diverse climate and soil conditions. The fine root tendrils will penetrate the soil to a great depth if the ground has been sufficiently prepared. This makes it necessary to plough deeply and work the soil thoroughly.
A relative humidity of 60 to 70 per cent at midday is stated to be best for flax, and with this humidity about 6 to 8 inches of rain spread evenly over the three growing months is considered ideal.
Cultivation: area, production and yield
Linseed occupies about 4.9 million hectare on world map of its cultivation. The acreage and production of linseed are concentrated in northern hemisphere. India with the highest acreage under linseed ranks third in production after Canada and Argentina. However, the linseed productivity in India is far away from that of more than a dozen countries as well as world average yield. The area and production of different states of India is as follows:
State wise area, production and yield of linseed in India
Jammu & Kashmir
Flax is usually grown either for fibre or for seed, different varieties being used for each purpose. The varieties of fibre flax are classified generally into those with white, blue or purple flowers. Those with white flowers are generally more hardy and give a higher yield per acre, both for fibre and seed, than those with blue flowers, but the fibre from them is considered to be harsher and of lower quality from the spinning point of view.
The purple flowered varieties are not used extensively for actual commercial production but have been used for crossing with the other two flower colour varieties in plant breeding. The taller five stemmed varieties of flax are grown for fibre production while the shorter branching varieties are grown for linseed oil.
Flax Type Varieties
Some promising varieties produced in various countries in Europe are Concurrent, Liral, Stormont, Are-en-ciel, Fortex, Nobles, Diana, Solid, Belinka, Ayogi, Arian, Michel, RSPL-1 etc. Liral prince and Weira are hybrid varieties.
Flax varieties are affected to some extent by the conditions under which they are grown. The white flowered varieties (Linum usitatissimum album) produce stronger plants and are more resistant to diseases than the blue flowered varieties (L. usitatissimum vulgare), but the latter yield a fine fibre of high quality.
Nine linseed / flax varieties released and notified during IX plan period
Seed type: Sheela (2001), Shekhar (2001), Padmini (1990), JLS-9 (1990), NL-97 (2001)
Dual purpose (DP) type: Shikha (1997), Rashmi (1999), Meera (2000), Parwati (2001)
Sheela, Shekhar, Shikha and Rashmi
R.R.S., Mauranipur, (CSAUAT)
R.R.S., Kota (RAU)
Agriculture College, Nagpur (Dr PDKV)
R.R.S., Sagar (JNKVV)
Salient features of dual purpose varieties
Year of Notification
Crop Duration (days)
Average Yield (Kg/ha)
Oil Content (%)
Tall, brown, medium bold seeded, resistant to rust, powdery mildew and alternaria blight
Brown, medium seeded, resistant to rust, powdery mildew, frost and lodging
Tall, brown medium seeded, resistant to rust, powdery mildew and alternaria blight
Harvest of plants is usually made just before the seed is ripe, when it is pulled by hand (rarely cut), tied in bundles and after a few days drying, the seeds and leaves are removed by a process called rippling. The plant is often pulled by hand causing the higher yield of fibres and without leaving the stubbles, hard to decompose in the soil, but machines that successfully handle the flax are available. Chemical desiccation of a standing flax crop is in use in Ireland and Scotland.
Flax fibre is pulled when stems are entirely defoliated. At this time the fibre bundles in the stems are matured i.e. cambial divisions and the development of the secondary phloem fibre cells are complete. Flax pulled when 'full ripe' combines good fibre yield and quality. Increasing lignifications of fibre cells occurs when flax is pulled at later stage, resulting in poor fibre quality.
Fibre content in the straw
The Indian varieties contain about 20 to 25 per cent good quality fibre. The fibre shows lustre and exhibits Z twist on drying.
In India linseed/ flax is cultivated exclusively for seed/ oil. The linseed oil is rated as technical grade oil. Of the total production of linseed oil, about 20 per cent is used as edible oil in certain parts of India. The rest 80 per cent oil goes to industries for preparation of paints, varnish and allied products. On account of dryeing properties due to presence of high quantity of unsaturated fatty acids in its oil, it forms the raw material for preparation of various forms of coating oils such as boiled oil, stand oil, blown oil, matinized oil, urathane oil, aluminated oil, borated oil, eposidised oil and isomerised oil etc. besides its prominent use in the preparation of paints, varnish, oil cloth, linolium, pad ink, printing inketc. After hydrogination, linseed oil may be a good substitute for imported tallow. The linseed cake is a nutritious feed for milch cattle.
Flax fibre, its properties and uses
Flax plant contains valuable fibre of great industrial uses. Flax fibre is the main objective of its cultivation in several countries of temperate region of northern hemisphere. The characteristic features of flax are their great strength, finness and durability. They are lustrous, stronger,less strechy, more durable and better resistant to environmental fluctuations than cotton and jute fibre. it is in this background that flax fibre was always highly regarded and were rated indispensible particularly during war periods. The flax fibre is embeded longitudinally in the stalk between epidermis soluble connecting matter located above the woody core. India imports flax fibre to the tune of about 40 crores of Rupee to meet our indigenous demand particularly of our defence. Flax fibre has many more uses in preparation of line fabric rope and mats etc. The chaff or the woody portion of the stem with short fibres makes good souece of pulp for preparation of hard boards, file covers, wrapping and quality writing paper including currency paper.
Characteristics of flax fibre
cream white to grey
Effect of heat
Effect of moisture
Increase in strength
Effect of sunlight
Volatile organic acids
No injurious effect
Uses of flax fibre
Flax fibre textiles are called linen or linso-fabrics. The fibre being a cellulose material is useful in different ways.
- Coarser grades are used in the manufacture of strong ropes, shipping cord, twines and cordage.
- Rough textiles for manufacturing blankets, carpets, Hessian cloth, galicha, mats, bags, mattresses and newar.
- Best grades of flax fibres are used for fine textile for manufacturing suiting and shirting materials, cloth laces, bed sheets, damasks, curtains and similar materials. Flax fibre is also used in admixture of cotton. These blended textiles are cheap as well as posses good texture of linen type and durability.Flax fibre also form the cheap source of cellulose for the development of artificial silk industry.
- Pulp manufacture: The fibre content in the dry scutched straw, on an average is 20 per cent. The rest 80 per cent material, left over in the fibre extraction process is capable of being converted into pulp to manufacture good quality writing paper, parchment paper, cigarette paper and straw boards of all grades on economic basis.
Submitted by Ritu Pandey on Thu, 09/04/2009 - 17:31