Agave fourcroydes

Common name: Henequen

Other common names: Mexican sisal, Sisal hemp, White henequen, Yucatan sisal

Names in non-English languages: Spanish

Description

Originating in Mexico, this succulent is closely related and similar in appearance to Sisal (Agave sisalana) and like Sisal is cultivated for the fibre in its leaves. It develops a thick central stem, to which are attached long fleshy, sword-shaped leaves in an encircling, spiral arrangement. The leaves are greyish and the leaf margins armed with sharp spines.

Although slower growing than Sisal it has a much longer lifespan, lasting fifteen to twenty years compared to only around eight for Sisal. It is typically 2 to 3 m (7to 10 ft) tall and at the end of its life produces a single flower spike that grows 7 to 8 m (23 to 26 ft) tall, straight up from the centre of the plant. In its final spring and summer large creamy-white, bell-shaped flowers bloom at the top of the spike.

It rarely produces seed, instead numerous small plantlets follow the flowers on the tall spike. Commonly known as bulbils, they are complete plants in themselves that can be removed from the spike and planted directly in soil.

Use

The fibre is similar in appearance to that of Sisal, but is somewhat weaker and has a slightly lighter off-white colour. Like Sisal, however, it is used mainly where a strong, coarse fibre is required, such as in the manufacture or rope, cordage, rugs, carpets, upholstery backing and as pulp for the manufacture of speciality paper products, such as bank notes and other durable paper products. It is also used in woven craft in its native range and nowadays is transformed into fashionable accessories, including high-quality woven handbags and beach bags.

It is sometimes cultivated in gardens as an ornamental for its form and colour but is usually located where its spines are unlikely to inflict injury, or it is intentionally cultivated as a barrier to unwanted intruders.

Climate

Grows naturally in sub-humid tropical lowland climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 17 to 25 °C, annual highs of 26 to 36 °C, annual rainfall of 500 to 1400 mm and a dry season of 9 months or less.

How to grow

Suckers sprouting from the base of the plant can be dug up and re-planted directly, but bulbils should be grown-out in a nursery for around a year before planting out. Potting mixes used to grow bulbils in the nursery should be fertile and quick-draining. Watering may be required during the dry season to ensure their survival and development.

Performs best on free-draining sand or loam soils with a slightly acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 8.5 pH and on sites with full sun exposure. It is intolerant of waterlogging.

The leaves of mature plants can be harvested year-round for their fibre, beginning when the plant is around four to six years old. Plants raised from bulbils reportedly produce more fibre than plants from suckers.

Problem features

It is listed as a weed in at least one reference publication but there does not appear to be any record of it as a serious weed anywhere. Although similar to Sisal in its reproduction, it has a much longer reproductive cycle, making it less likely to develop into a weed.

The leaf margins have sharp spines that can cause serious injury or harm to the unwary.

Where it will grow


References

Books

  • Dewey, L. H. 1943, Fiber production in the western hemisphere, U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.

  • Litzenberger, S. C. 1974, Guide for field crops in the tropics and the subtropics, Office of Agriculture, Technical Assistance Bureau, Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington D.C.

  • Perkins, K. D. & Payne, W. 1981, Guide to the poisonous and irritant plants of Florida, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Gainesville, Florida

  • Purseglove, J. W. 1981, Tropical crops: Monocotyledons, Longman, Harlow, London

  • Randall, R. P. 2002, A global compendium of weeds, R.G. and F.J. Richardson Press, Melbourne

  • Randall, R. P. 2007, The introduced flora of Australia and its weed status, Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Glen Osmond, South Australia

  • Wood, I. M. 1997, Fibre crops : new opportunities for Australian agriculture, Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QLD DPI), Brisbane

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