There is a great appeal to using natural materials to make the items we use, especially in garden spaces.  Rattan is one of the more familiar materials – traditionally used for lightweight furniture – but what actually is it, and where does it come from?

Rattan Climber Plant
A rattan cane growing in India. Picture credit: Dinesh Valke (2011) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Rattan refers to around 600 species of vine-like palm climbers found growing in tropical regions across the world, although commercial rattan production is centred on Southeast Asia. The plant is formed of a spine-covered woody stem, which in the right circumstances can grow up to 100m long. Once the cane’s outer layer has been removed and the core dried or cured it becomes immensely strong, flexible and lightweight, and can be used for many purposes – Italian scientists are currently on the verge of releasing a working rattan bone graft!  

Rattan has long been an important resource in the lives of local populations, but its many desirable qualities mean it is now a globally-coveted commodity, with the rattan industry worth over US$4 billion annually. The industry is a vital source of income for many rural communities and is held as a shining example of sustainable, eco-friendly development – it grows reliably quickly, and is easy to harvest and process in a village setting. Given that rattan is dependent on trees to grow, its production also helps protect against destructive deforestation. In countries such as Indonesia rattan is now a valuable tool for protecting areas that would otherwise be under threat, although there are concerns about overexploitation.

Rattan being prepared for use

In the UK rattan is often used for garden accessories, where its natural appearance and touch helps blend with the greenery of the garden space – a good example being this hand woven planter with inbuilt drainage system. However, rattan is now rarely used for outdoor furniture. Although it is immensely durable, rattan will eventually suffer from prolonged contact with the elements after a number of years. There is consequently a great demand for synthetic rattan garden furniture, which aims to replicate the benefits of the plant while better serving in long-term outdoor use.

Synthetic rattan (or ‘rattan effect’) furniture is generally made from either Polyethylene (PE) or Polyurethane (PU), which both share the key characteristics of being weather, mould and UV proof. Despite this, PE rattan is widely considered to be the superior material, given that it’s notably more durable, as well as being environmentally friendly to manufacture and completely recyclable. Synthetic rattan garden furniture also come in several different weaves – full-round, half-round and flat – all offering different aesthetic effects and tactile experiences.

Primrose offers a range of high quality synthetic rattan garden furniture ideal for outdoor entertaining and alfresco dining: this 6 Seater Set is made using PE rattan with a full-round weave, and comes in a natural colouring, while this 12 Seater Round Sofa also uses PE rattan, but comes in flat-weave and a chocolatey brown colouring.

Rattan, whether natural or synthetic, has a great deal to offer any outdoor space. The natural product is a wonderful material for certain garden accessories despite its limitations, while the synthetic equivalent makes for some truly lovable furniture – perfect for any outdoor entertainer.

Have any more questions about garden furniture? Check out our guide to Everything You Need To Know About Garden Furniture.

Will at PrimroseWill is a Copywriter at Primrose, and spends his days rattling out words for the website. In his spare time he treads the boards with an Am-Dram group, reads books about terrible, terrible wars, and rambles the countryside looking wistful.

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