AbstractMany current and potential uses of cellulosic materials depend critically on the character of their surfaces. This review of the scientific literature considers both well-established and emerging strategies to change the outermost surfaces of cellulosic fibers or films not only in terms of chemical composition, but also in terms of outcomes such as wettability, friction, and adhesion. A key goal of surface modification has been to improve the performance of cellulosic fibers in the manufacture of composites through chemistries such as esterification that are enabled by the high density of hydroxyl groups at typical cellulosic surfaces. A wide variety of grafting methods, some developed recently, can be used with plant-derived fibers. The costs and environmental consequences of such treatments must be carefully weighed against the potential to achieve similar performances by approaches that use more sustainable methods and materials and involve less energy and processing steps. There is potential to change the practical performances of many cellulosic materials by heating, by enzymatic treatments, by use of surface-active agents, or by adsorption of polyelectrolytes. The lignin, hemicelluloses, and extractives naturally present in plant-based materials also can be expected to play critical roles in emerging strategies to modify the surfaces characteristics of cellulosic fibers with a minimum of adverse environmental impacts.