It is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant (rarely a short-lived perennial) growing to 1.5-3.5 m tall with a woody base. The stems are 1–2 cm diameter, often but not always branched. The leaves are 10–15 cm long, variable in shape, with leaves near the base of the stems being deeply lobed with 3-7 lobes, while leaves near the top of the stem are shallowly lobed or unlobed lanceolate. The flowers are 8–15 cm diameter, white, yellow, or purple; when white or yellow, the centre is still dark purple. The fruit is a capsule 2 cm diameter, containing several seeds.
The fibres in kenaf are found in the bast (bark) and core (wood). The bast constitutes 40% of the plant. These fibres are long (2 – 6 mm) and slender. The cell wall is thick (6.3 µm). The core is about 60% of the plant and has thick (ø 38 µm) but short (0.5 mm) and thin walled (3 µm) fibres. Since the paper pulp is produced from the whole stem, the fibre distribution is bimodal. The pulp quality is similar to hardwood.
Uses of kenaf fibre include engineered wood, insulation, clothing-grade cloth, soil-less potting mixes, animal bedding, packing material, and material that absorbs oil and liquids. It is also useful as cut bast fibre for blending with resins for plastic composites, as a drilling fluid loss preventative for oil drilling muds, for a seeded hydromulch for erosion control. Kenaf can be made into various types of environmental mats, such as seeded grass mats for instant lawns and moldable mats for manufactured parts and containers. Panasonic has set up a plant in Malaysia to manufacture kenaf fibre boards and export them to Japan.
Additionally, as part of its overall effort to make vehicles more sustainable, Ford is making the material inside the door – known as the bolster – in part from kenaf. The first implementation of kenaf within a Ford vehicle will be in the 2013 Ford Escape.
The use of kenaf is anticipated to offset 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin per year in North America and reduces the weight of the door bolsters by 25 percent. Weight savings translate into fuel savings for drivers.
Kenaf seeds yield a vegetable oil that is edible with no toxins.The kenaf seed oil is also used for cosmetics, industrial lubricants and for biofuel production. Kenaf oil is high in omega polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) which are now known to help in keeping humans healthy. Kenaf seed oil contains a high percentage of linoleic acid (Omega-6) a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). Linoleic acid (C18:2) is the dominant PUFA, followed by oleic acid (C18:1). Alpha-linolenic acid (C18:3) is present in 2 to 4 percent. The PUFAs are essential fatty acids for normal growth and health. Furthermore, they are important for reducing cholesterol and heart diseases.
Kenaf Seed oil is 20.4% of the total seed weight which is similar to cotton seed