Botanical Name: Agave sisalana
Species: A. sisalana
*Agave amaniensis Trel. & Nowell
*Agave rigida var. sisalana (Perrine) Engelm.
*Agave segurae D.Guillot & P.Van der Meer
*Agave sisalana var. armata Trel.
*Agave sisalana f. armata (Trel.) Trel.
Common Names: Sisal, Sisal hemp
Habitat: Agave sisalana is native to southern Mexico but widely cultivated and naturalized in many other countries. Planted abundantly in some regions, and, often escaping, seen in many localities in hedges or fence-rows.
Agave sisalana is an evergreen Perennial growing to 2 m (6ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a fast rate. Sisal plants, Agave sisalana, consist of a rosette of sword-shaped leaves about 1.5–2 metres (4 ft 11 in–6 ft 7 in) tall. Young leaves may have a few minute teeth along their margins, but lose them as they mature and eventually, a flowering stem that can be up to 6 metres tall.
The sisal plant has a 7–10 year life-span and typically produces 200–250 commercially usable leaves. Each leaf contains an average of around 1000 fibres. The fibres account for only about 4% of the plant by weight. Sisal is considered a plant of the tropics and subtropics, since production benefits from temperatures above 25 °C (77 °F) and sunshine.
Sisal was used by the Aztecs and the Mayans to make crude fabrics and paper.
In the 19th century, sisal cultivation spread to Florida, the Caribbean islands, and Brazil (Paraiba and Bahia), as well as to countries in Africa, notably Tanzania and Kenya, and Asia. Sisal reportedly “came to Africa from Florida, through the mechanism of a remarkable German botanist, by the name of Hindorf.”
In Cuba its cultivation was introduced in 1880, by Fernando Heydrich in Matanzas.
The first commercial plantings in Brazil were made in the late 1930s and the first sisal fibre exports from there were made in 1948. It was not until the 1960s that Brazilian production accelerated and the first of many spinning mills was established. Today Brazil is the major world producer of sisal. There are both positive and negative environmental impacts from sisal growing.
Propagation of sisal is generally by using bulbils produced from buds in the flower stalk or by suckers growing around the base of the plant, which are grown in nursery fields until large enough to be transplanted to their final position. These methods offer no potential for genetic improvement. In vitro multiplication of selected genetic material using meristematic tissue culture (MST) offers considerable potential for the development of improved genetic material.
Edible portion: Leaves, Sap, Plant heart, Vegetable. Root. The heart of new shoots – cooked. The sap from the flower stalk is fermented to make an alcoholic drink. The roots are used in the production of an alcoholic beverage.
Sisal is a folk remedy for dysentery, leprosy sores, and syphilis. It is a source of hecogenin. The leaves contain hecogenin used in the partial synthesis of the drug cortisone.
Agroforestry Uses: The plant is cultivated for fences as well as for protection against soil erosion. Short fibres from the leaves, obtained as by-products, are used for production of compost. Other Uses A high quality fibre is obtained from the leaves.The leaves provide one of the most important hard fibres, it is used for making ropes and all kinds of strings, fishing-nets, hammocks, door-curtains, floor-covers, bags etc. The fibre cannot be spun as finely as jute and ropes tend to break suddenly. Short fibres, obtained as by-products, are used for production of cellulose, paper as well as for upholstery material. Fibres are also used to reinforce plaster boards and paper. The waste material, after extraction of the fibre, is reported to be molluscicidal and fungistatic and can be used as mulch for plants. The sharp leaf spines are traditionally used as needles.
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