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What is this blue flower that dresses the Normandy coast?

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This blue-mauve lining the fields of northern France in June and delighted the hearts of hikers comes from flax. This plant is characterized by flowers as delicate as ephemeral . The linen flower opens in the morning, and the petals fall with the afternoon sun! But its hard fiber, which is why it is prized around the world by industries increasingly diverse.

Flax, a Norman treasure?

The plant “fiber linen” gives this textile material so famous for its lightness, its silky and its insulating properties. It is part of the treasures that Normandy offers … Flax is also grown at the gates of Paris (in Val-d’Oise and Seine-et-Marne), Picardy and Nord-Pas-de-Calais. France is the world’s largest producer of fiber flax and exports large volumes, particularly to China.

But is it really, originally, a plant of our country? Not at all ! There are traces of flax fiber in Turkey and Egypt 10,000 years BC, as well as in the caves of Georgia more than 15,000 years BC. In China, Russia, Ukraine but also in Western Europe or Africa, flax production is now done all over the world. However, the French production is particularly renowned for the quality of the fibers, which allow optimal use by the textile industries (clothing, household linen and decoration).

The good sea air

How to explain that the northern regions of France are so conducive to growing flax? By the maritime conditions that these lands benefit from … Having a good balance between humidity, light and soil quality, the plant grows regularly, without “water stress”, that is to say without suffering the lack of water.

In these conditions, flax produces fine and long fibers particularly appreciated for clothing. In addition, once torn off and lying on the ground, flax can “rust” easily. In August, the morning dew and afternoon heat allow the bacteria to “attack” the stem (retting), which will facilitate the separation of straw and fiber (scutching).

With flax, nothing is lost!

Once the long fiber separated from the straw, there are still many byproducts valued sometimes surprising … The “tows” or short fibers leave essentially paper. In the automotive industry, towing is increasingly used for the manufacture of door panels and car dashboards.

When separating the fiber from the rest of the plant, there remain fragments called “anas”. They are used 80% for the manufacture of agglomerated panels and 15% for horse bedding, the rest for garden mulching or as fuel for boilers.

As for the seeds, they are used as seeds or oil mills. These oils are a base for soap, paints or resins. The Eiffel Tower is regularly maintained and repainted with a paint based on linseed oil! Finally, the cake from pressing is a feed of very high quality.

French seeds sought

Of the 75,000 hectares dedicated to flax, 15,000 are devoted to seed production … The farmer then uses seeds that have been specially produced to obtain fine linens. It is guaranteed to have seed without weed seeds and with a very high germination level. The goal for the farmer is to get one stem for every seed planted. In recent years, French flax seed has established itself as the European reference. Decidedly, blue flowers are on the rise!

Dr. Kanika Singla

Ph.D., IARI Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley

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