The following article appeared in a recent number of the London Times:

The subject of the cultivation and commercial utilization of the China grass plant, or rhea, has for many years occupied attention, the question being one of national importance, particularly as affecting India. Rhea which is also known under the name of ramie, is a textile plant which was indigenous to China and India. It is perennial, easy of cultivation, and produces a remarkably strong fiber. The problem of its cultivation has long being solved, for within certain limits rhea can be grown in any climate. India and the British colonies offer unusual facilities, and present vast and appropriate fields for that enterprise, while it can be, and is, grown in most European countries. All this has long been demonstrated; not so, however, the commercial utilization of the fiber, which up to the present time would appear to be a problem only partially solved, although many earnest workers have been engaged in the attempted solution.

There have been difficulties in the way of decorticating the stems of this plant, and the Indian Government, in 1869, offered a reward of £5,000 for the best machine for separating the fiber from the stems and bark of rhea in its green or freshly cut state. The Indian Government was led to this step by the strong conviction, based upon ample evidence, that the only obstacle to the development of an extensive trade in this product was the want of suitable means for decorticating the plant. This was the third time within the present century that rhea had become the subject of official action on the part of the Government, the first effort for utilizing the plant dating from 1803, when Dr. Roxburg started the question, and the second from 1840, when attention was again directed to it by Colonel Jenkins.

The offer of £5,000, in 1869, led to only one machine being submitted for trial, although several competitors had entered their names. This machine was that of Mr. Greig, of Edinburgh, but after careful trial by General (then Lieutenant Colonel) Hyde it was found that it did not fulfill the conditions laid down by the Government, and therefore the full prize of £5,000 was not awarded. In consideration, however, of the inventor having made a bona fide and meritorious attempt to solve the question, he was awarded a donation of £1,500. Other unsuccessful attempts were subsequently made, and eventually the offer of £5,000 was withdrawn by the Government.

But although the prize was withdrawn, invention did not cease, and the Government, in 1881, reoffered the prize of £5,500. Another competition took place, at which several machines were tried, but the trials, as before, proved barren of any practical results, and up to the present time no machine has been found capable of dealing successfully with this plant in the green state. The question of the preparation of the fiber, however, continued to be pursued in many directions. Nor is this to be wondered at when it is remembered that the strength of some rhea fiber from Assam experimented with in 1852 by Dr. Forbes Royle, as compared with St. Petersburg hemp, was in the ratio of 280 to 160, while the wild rhea from Assam was as high as 343. But, above and beyond this, rhea has the widest range of possible applications of any fiber, as shown by an exhaustive report on the preparation and use of rhea fiber by Dr. Forbes Watson, published in 1875, at which date Dr. Watson was the reporter on the products of India to the Secretary of State, at the India Office. Last year, however, witnessed the solution of the question of decortication in the green state in a satisfactory manner by M.A. Favier's process, as reported by us at the time.

This process consists in subjecting the plant to the action of steam for a period varying from 10 to 25 minutes, according to the length of time the plant had been cut. After steaming, the fiber and its adjuncts were easily stripped from the wood. The importance and value of this invention will be realized, when it is remembered that the plant is cultivated at long distances from the localities where the fiber is prepared for the market. The consequence is, that for every hundredweight of fiber about a ton of woody material has to be transported. Nor is this the only evil, for the gummy matter in which the fiber is embedded becomes dried up during transport, and the separation of the fiber is thus rendered difficult, and even impossible, inasmuch as some of the fiber is left adhering to the wood.

M. Favier's process greatly simplifies the commercial production of the fiber up to a certain point, for, at a very small cost, it gives the manufacturer the whole of the fiber in the plant treated. But it still stops short of what is required, in that it delivers the fiber in ribbons, with its cementitious matter and outer skin attached. To remove this, various methods have been tried, but, as far as we are aware, without general success--that is to say, the fiber cannot always be obtained of such a uniformly good quality as to constitute a commercially reliable article. Such was the position of the question when, about a year ago, the whole case was submitted to the distinguished French chemist, Professor Fremy, member of the Institute of France, who is well-known for his researches into the nature of fibrous plants, and the question of their preparation for the market. Professor Fremy thoroughly investigated the matter from a chemical point of view, and at length brought it to a successful and, apparently, a practical issue.

One great bar to previous success would appear to have been the absence of exact knowledge as to the nature of the constituents of that portion of the plant which contains the fiber, or, in other words, the casing or bark surrounding the woody stem of the rhea. As determined by Professor Fremy, this consists of the cutose, or outer skin, within which is the vasculose containing the fiber and other conjoined matter, known as cellulose, between which and the woody stem is the pectose, or gum, which causes the skin or bark, as a whole, fiber included, to adhere to the wood. The Professor, therefore, proceeded to carefully investigate the nature of these various substances, and in the result he found that the vasculose and pectose were soluble in an alkali under certain conditions, and that the cellulose was insoluble. He therefore dissolves out the cutose, vasculose, and pectose by a very simple process, obtaining the fiber clean, and free from all extraneous adherent matter, ready for the spinner.