Rattan is a "vine" which comes from a climbing palm called Calamus; also known as the rattan palm. The rattan palm is found in the tropics, primarily in South East Asia and the Indonesian archipelago. Next to timber it is Indonesia's most important forest product.
The rattan vine has a long flexible stem that can grow quite long with a diameter as large as 3.5-cm (1.5 inches). Rattan vines as long as 500 to 600 feet have been observed in nature. Due to its flexibility the rattan stem requires support as it grows in the rain forest. This support is provided by spiny leaves that grasp host trees as the vine climbs into the forest canopy. The spines make the collection of rattan very difficult.
Collectors harvest rattan from deep in the rain forest. They pull the vines down from the forest canopy and remove the spiny leaves. Bare cane is carried out of the rain forest and partially processed before being sold to middlemen who then transport it to major cities for further processing. Small diameter cane is usually dried in the sun and smoked over burning sulfur. Larger rattan cane is usually boiled in a mixture of diesel oil and palm oil to remove excess moisture. This boiling also removes natural gums and creates a barrier against wood-boring beetles. Rattan material is water-resistant, but heating and steaming cause rattan to bend easily.
Rattan is used in a wide range of products, the most important of which is the manufacture of furniture. In the past much of the commercially harvested raw vine was exported to overseas manufacturers. By the mid 1980's, however, Indonesia introduced an export ban on raw rattan vine to encourage the manufacture of rattan furniture locally. The government's intent was twofold: to add value to the exported product and to conserve stocks of wild rattan.
Until recently almost all rattan was collected from tropical rain forests. With forest destruction and conversion, the habitat area of rattan has decreased rapidly over the last few decades and there is now a shortage of supply. The Forest Department in Indonesia has become aware of the vulnerability of the rattan supply and has begun a cultivation program aimed at safeguarding the long-term supply of rattan cane for the industry. Commercial cultivation of rattan appears to be viable and offers the best possibility for future supply.