File this under “You learn something new everyday.”
Whenever I am looking for an article in an old newspaper (in the California Digital Newspaper Collection — a wonderful resource), my eye always strays to the advertisements. They are frequently entertaining and sometimes baffling.
This ad announcing PULU! PULU! PULU! caught my eye because I had no idea what pulu is. Clearly from the rest of the ad — which gives you a good idea what people stuffed their mattresses with — it had something to do with bedding.
Wikipedia came to my aid.
Pulu is a silky material obtained from the fibers of the hapu’u pulu (Cibotium glaucum), a tree fern which grows in Hawaii. The Hawaiians used it for padding, dressing wounds, and wrapping the dead.
The ad appeared in the Sacramento Daily Union on 21 May 1863.
For a period in the 19th century, pulu was collected, dried, and exported to California commercially as pillow and mattress stuffing. A stone structure in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park known as the Old Pulu Factory was a site for drying and packing pulu. However, the discovery that pulu breaks down and crumbles into dust after only a few years led to the demise of the industry. Pulu was collected by cutting down the slow-growing ferns, an extremely unsustainable method. The industry shut down by the 1880s.
And now you know about PULU!