Murta the raw material for making shitalpati, a traditional bed mat of Bangladesh. It is also known as 'patipata', 'patibet', 'mostak', paitara', in different parts of Bangladesh. Murta, Schumannianthus dichotoma (= Clinogyne dichotoma), is a member of the family Marantaceae. S. dichotoma is a rhizomatous shrub with an erect and glossy green stem attaining a height of 3-5 m and a diameter of 2.0 cm. The stems are leafy and dichotomously branched.

Murta tree

Geographically it is distributed in northeast Bangladesh, West Bengal and Malay Peninsula. In Bangladesh it occurs naturally in the swamp forests of Sylhet, and cultivated mostly in the districts of Sylhet, Sunamganj, Barisal, Tangail, Comilla, Noakhali, Feni and Chittagong. Traditional artisans make strips from outer portion of the stem including the epidermal part. These split strips are processed and plaited into mats.Murta splits are also used for making prayer mats, baskets, bags, novelty items, etc. The strips from the pith portion are used as binding materials.

Forestry Master Plan (1982) of Bangladesh estimates that about 8,000 people are employed in sitalpati making in the country. Swampy and marshy lands are suitable for murta cultivation. Traditionally it is propagated through rhizomes, but can be also propagated through branch cuttings. The propagules are planted during the months of May-June. After planting it takes 2-3 years to reach the harvestable size. February-March is the harvesting period. It can also be propagated through seeds. It grows well in partial shade. So, farmers often plant Erythrina trees in murta fields. It needs no special management other than weeding. [M Khairul Alam]