What's the Difference Between Wicker, Rattan, and Cane?

Roxanna Coldiron
·4 min read
woven hanging light
woven hanging light

Ted Cavanaugh

Wicker, rattan, and cane inspire the light, airy feeling of summer when used for crafts and furniture in the home. "Wicker, rattan, and cane items work really well as either one statement piece or a series of small accent items to complement either a neutral or bold color palette in a room. Because these materials are all natural, they each offer the utmost versatility," says Hannah Pobar, designer behind Home Studio List. "Rattan furniture comes in so many unique silhouettes, and using these materials adds warm energy and a little dimension to any style. Rattan baskets double for beautiful décor and storage. I love a big rattan basket to store extra throw blankets and pillows."

There are many ways to incorporate wicker design in your home. "The use of wicker is an incredible way to add dimension and warmth to a space. It is often presented in natural tones, giving it a soft, organic feel. However, combined with more dramatic accents like black lacquer or vibrant colors, wicker can be an edgy choice as well," recommends Malorie Goldberg of Noa Blake Design. "Overall, wicker tends to have a casual vibe, reminiscent of the warm weather places the materials originate, so it can be used to tone down more serious spaces or present a laid-back feel that provides comfort and whimsy, while still appearing sophisticated and classic."

But what is the difference between wicker, rattan, and caning?

Related: How to Repair, Paint, and Restore Wicker Furniture

Ancient Origins

According to the Wicker Warehouse, wicker is not a material. Wicker baskets refer to the weaving technique and not to the material that was used to make the basket. The history of wicker weaving can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and found in artifacts that exist to this day—thousands of years later. The baskets stood the test of time because the wicker technique produces a sturdy weave, and the materials that the Egyptians used came from natural resources.

The structural soundness of the wicker weaving technique is one of the reasons that its popularity has never abated. What better way to make lightweight furniture that holds together well and is easy to carry if you ever need to move at a moment's notice? Using natural materials like the rattan, a palm plant that comes in approximately 600 species and found in tropical rainforests. People chose it as a weaving material because it was both solid and flexible. "Rattan grows like a tree! Not only is it fast growing, it's also highly sustainable. It is known as one of the strongest types of wood in existence!" explains Pobar. "To make furniture, steam is used to bend the poles into the desired shape. When dried, rattan will retain the shape."

A Sturdy, Flexible Material

Rattan made a strong base for furniture and baskets. The palm vine would first be steamed to make it more pliable, then it was shaped and cooled. Artisans formed the poles to make the frame of the furniture then the rest of the piece would be painstakingly woven. Because rattan is a strong material and wicker weaving further strengthens it, the resulting furniture could hold the weight of an adult person and withstand years of use.

So, what is caning? "Cane is similar to rattan in that it is the outer layer (or bark) of the rattan vine. It is also quite strong and used to bind pieces together. Caning is less porous than wood and naturally repels drips and spills," says Pobar. The thinner rattan (or cane) can still be woven into various items and retains the strength of the original rattan. But it may be desired for lighter projects, like a woven mat or wall hanging. Cane is used in wicker furniture and basketry as well. Like rattan, caning is a beautiful, natural material that offers flexibility for creating stunning works of art.

Wicker furniture is also very repairable. You can easily repair, paint, and restore wicker furniture to its original beauty. It is important that you cover your outdoor wicker furniture when it's not in use to protect it from the elements. As sturdy as the woven material of the furniture can be, rain, sun and dirt can cause damage to it over time. And wet wicker furniture will sag when stressed. If possible, you should also consider moving the furniture indoors—like a garage or waterproof basement—during winter months or bad weather.