straw, dried stalks of threshed grains, especially wheat, barley, oats, and rye. It has been used from antiquity for bedding, covering floors, and thatching roofs, as fodder and litter for animals, and in weaving such articles as mats, screens, baskets, ornaments and hangings, hats, sandals, fans, and armor. Straw hats are woven in one piece or made from braids sewn together. Braids have been made in Europe from medieval times and probably originated in Tuscany, Italy. They are usually made from straw selected for color, length, and lightness and are grown under special conditions of soil and climate. Fine braids, such as leghorn, are commonly of wheat stalks, often cut before they are fully ripe. Hats made of other fibers, such as the leaf fiber of the screw pine used for Panama hats, are also known as straw hats. Straw was once widely used as a packing material and in the manufacture of strawboard (a cheap cardboard) and, in combination with less brittle materials, of paper. More recently, tightly packed bales of straw have been used like bricks to build house walls; the straw-bale wall is covered with plaster or another material. See hay.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.