From the BC Gold Rush Press: They rested their heads on Pulu mattresses in the BC Gold Rush.
How did gold rush miners get a good night’s rest? If they were lucky, a roadhouse or inn had beds with Pulu mattresses.
The early roadhouses had either cots or if they had ‘mattresses’, they were stuffed with straw or dried moss and sometimes feathers or curled hair. These were expensive to import because of the tariffs.
An entrepreneur got the idea that Pulu would make a great substitute because there was no import levy on it and also it was soft and cheap. Pulu was from a tree fern known as the hapu’u pulu in Hawaii. The young fronds (fiddleheads) of these tree ferns are covered with a bronze-coloured silky floss called “pulu”. Ancient Hawaiians had long used pulu.
From the late 1850s to the 1880s over 4 million pounds of pulu were shipped in bales, to be used primarily for stuffing mattresses, pillows, and upholstery. Fortunately, this stopped when people realized that [continue]
I went off to see what pulu fronds look like, and found this image at Wikimedia Commons. (Click on the image if you’d like to see a larger version. Oh, and thanks to photographer Tom Burke for sharing it under a Creative Commons license.)
Instant Hawaii has more photos, and a bit more information about this tree. They note:
As the young shoots uncurl they have a fine golden hair that is very soft, almost like velvet. This hair is called pulu and it was collected in the 1800’s and used commercially as stuffing for pillows and mattresses. The remnants of an old pulu factory can still be seen on the Napau Crater trail in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Well, that was fun to learn about. What’s in your mattress? Probably a bunch of synthetic stuff that’s been treated with fire retardants and other chemicals, unless you’ve gone out of your way to find an alternative. If you happen to be looking for an alternative mattress filling now, I think you can strike pulu off your list!