The New International Encyclopædia/Hemp, Sisal

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HEMP, Sisal. The fibre of Agave rigida sisalana, order Ainaryllideæ, native of Yucatan, Mexico, Central America, and West Indies, and closely related to the century plant. It has been introduced into the Bahamas and Florida. As a cordage fibre it is second only to Manila hemp in strength. Its straight smooth strands of fibre become white upon drying without washing. The plants yield best on a gravelly, rocky soil in comparatively arid districts only a few feet above the level of the sea. It thrives upon the Florida Keys, upon the almost naked coral rock, but will not thrive when even slightly shaded. Plants set out at 18 inches high from the nursery will produce leaves fit for cutting in three years. The life of a plant when undisturbed is six or seven years, after which it sends up its blossom-stalk and then dies. Cutting, however, extends its life fifteen to twenty years. No special cultivation is needed except that the land be kept clean and the suckers kept down. The cutting of the leaves is done in Yucatan by Indians, who use a heavy-bladed, sabre-like knife called a machete. The spine at the leaf-end is cut off and the leaves bundled for removal to the machines. On large plantations they are transported by steam-power over tramways which reach different parts of the estate. The fibre is separated from the fresh leaf by a specially constructed machine called a raspodor. The annual yield of fibre is from 1000 to 1470 pounds per acre, 50 to 70 pounds of fibre being derived from 1000 leaves.